Reading: Luke 1 v 30-33

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In the city of Nazareth lived a young woman called Mary. She was a God-fearing girl and was soon to marry a carpenter called Joseph. One day, whilst busy in the house, she had a surprise visitor who had something very important to tell her. It was the angel Gabriel and he had been sent by God to tell Mary that she was to have a baby - a very special baby because he was to be God's own Son.

A few months later, when Mary's baby was due to be born, the Romans (who ruled over Israel at the time) decided to have all the Israelites counted. Each Jewish man had to go back to his home town - the town where his ancestors had come from - and for Joseph that town was Bethlehem. It was a rough and dangerous journey to make in those days and, on their arrival in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were disturbed to find that all the inns were full. However, a kindly innkeeper took pity on them and offered them the use of the stable area of his inn where he kept his animals. That night, in the warmth and shelter of the stable, Mary had her baby. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in the manger.

Outside that night, in the fields around Bethlehem, shepherds were watching their flocks. Huddled around the fire in the darkness, they spoke in quiet whispers, all the time listening for any movement amongst the sheep that might tell them a wild animal was prowling about.

Suddenly, the quiet night sky was ablaze with light and an angel stood before them. They were terrified, but the angel told them not to be afraid. He had come to tell them that the Saviour had been born and that they would find him in Bethlehem, the city of David. A great host of angels then joined him and the air was filled with their singing as they poured forth praise and thanksgiving to God.

The angels left and, as the sound of their singing died away, the sky slowly sank back into darkness. The shepherds had to see the new baby! Racing across the fields, it did not take them long to reach the stable in which were Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Falling on their knees, the shepherds worshipped the little Lord Jesus.

However, it was not only Jews who were looking for a great King. There were wise men in the east who, whilst studying the stars at night, saw that one shone with special brightness. This star, they believed, was the sign that a great King had been born.

Having quickly packed up provisions for the long journey ahead, they set off for Jerusalem in the land of Judea. Where better to start looking for a new King than in the capital city? Cruel king Herod was on the throne, however, and he was none-too-pleased to learn that a new King had been born! He quickly sent for his religious leaders to find out where this King was to be born. They told him "in Bethlehem" so he summoned the wise men and told them to go to Bethlehem. "When you have found him, tell me where he is so that I can go and worship him, too" he said.

When the wise men left the palace, the star was there to guide them. They followed it until it stopped over the little house where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were living. The wise men knelt before the small child and worshipped him. Then they offered him the gifts they had brought for him - Gold, Myrrh and Frankincense.

After being warned by God not to go back to Herod, the wise men returned to their own land. Furious at being tricked, Herod ordered his soldiers to kill every boy under the age of two, but Jesus was safe. God's angel had warned Joseph in a dream and the little family made their way to Egypt where they lived until God told them it was safe to return to Nazareth.

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