Christmas 2002
By Father Harold Hammond

Once upon a time, in a land very far away, there lived a young woman named Mary.

Although she was still very young, perhaps 14, she was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph. Women married quite young in those days.

Mary, from a young age, had lived a good life, loved God and spent much time in prayer. One night, it was quite late, Mary was drawn into prayer and prayed long after her parents had gone to bed.

Suddenly she felt the presence of God very strongly, and a bright light flooded into her little room. A strong, powerful man suddenly appeared in her room, beside her. He was not an ordinary man because he was covered in the light of God.

Mary was very afraid and did not know what to make of this strange sight. Mary did not know that this was an angel, whose name was Gabriel, and that he was sent from God with a very special message. This message was directly from God to Mary, and it would change her life forever.

"And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." Luke 1:28, KJV.

At this point, Mary became quite confused and racked her brain to figure out what this was all about. She had no understanding of why the angel was here and what he was trying to tell her.

Meanwhile, the stars shone brightly in the night sky, and the moon covered the landscape with soft light. But it was as no light compared to the light that was coming from the angel, which seemed as bright as the sun.

Imagine what you would feel like if you were saying your bedtime prayers and, suddenly, a mighty angel appeared, called you by name, and said he had a message for you-FROM GOD.

The angel Gabriel, whose name means, "God has shown himself mighty," was one of the chief angels who serve close to the throne of God. He was an angel of very high rank in the heavenly kingdom.

He saw Mary's confusion and fear and said to her: "Mary, don't be afraid, it's ok, calm down.
"You have found favor with God, himself, and he has chosen you for a very great task. "God wants you to have a baby, a son, and call his name, Jesus. "This Jesus will be the Son of God."

And Mary said, "How can I have a baby, since I don't even have a husband yet?" The angel said, "God, the Holy Spirit, will come upon you and you will bear a son who will be the very Son of God."

Mary, indeed, became pregnant with the Holy One, the Christ, even Jesus. By earthly standards, this is impossible, but the Bible tells us: "For with God nothing shall be impossible." Luke 1:37, KJV.

The months passed quickly and Joseph, engaged to Mary, had a hard time understanding how Mary could be pregnant, and yet it was ok, since she was pregnant by God, himself. But Joseph was a good man, and God spoke to him in dreams and told him what to do


Joseph took the young, pregnant, Mary as his spouse and he protected her, but they did not live together as husband and wife.

Then it became time for the people to pay their taxes.
This particular year, they couldn't pay the taxes where they actually lived, but had to return to their family's home. This was so that the government could count the people, take a census, and determine how many folks there were who should pay taxes.

Mary and Joseph were in the family line of King David, who had about 50 children, and his descendants grew quite numerous. So Mary and Joseph had to go to Bethlehem, David's city.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem was a distance of about 70 miles, a long way to travel by foot or by donkey. It was a very long way for Joseph to travel with Mary, since it was just about a week or so before her baby was to be born. They may not have known the exact date, but it seemed clear that Mary would have to have the baby at some point on the trip, away from home. Mary, therefore had to pack everything she needed for the birth, including swaddling clothes. So off they went, with their faithful donkey, which was used to carry people and goods. The donkey would have a saddle made of three layers-felt, straw and haircloth. Sacks or boxes were roped together and slung across the saddle, and fastened beneath the animal in a girth hitch. ...It is likely that the newborn Jesus rode in one of these boxes when Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem.

Galilee was in the hill country, and the most direct route was due south, but this was pretty high country all the way. It is likely that the couple, with their donkey, traveled southeast through Samaria to lower ground, and proceeded south through Jerico, and past Jerusalem, and then due west into Bethlehem.

They could only carry food and water for two days for themselves and their donkey. After two days, they would have to plan to be in a city where they could buy provisions.

People in the Old and New Testaments didn't like traveling for a number of reasons. One reason was the danger from bandits. Another was that they were at the mercy of the local people for food and water and care for their animals. They would be charged many times over the market price for the goods. When Mary and Joseph reached Bethlehem, the city was crowded, swarming with people from all over Palestine. There were men, women and children, donkeys and camels, horses and soldiers. There were probably street vendors selling all sorts of Middle Eastern foods.

And, as you know, there was no room to be found at the inns of Bethlehem. If there were a room, it would not be private; there might be a number of people in the same room. This is no place for Mary to give birth.

The inn of Jesus' time was a very bad place.
It was called a "khan" or "caravanserai."
It was built around a courtyard, with stables for animals at ground level and rooms overhead. It was not unlike the modern motel in some ways.

One of the big problems was that, in most inns of the Middle East, prostitution was a flourishing business. (This is why Jesus, in Matthew 10:11 told his disciples to seek lodging in private homes. Also, this is why, among early Christians, hospitality to traveling Christians was so important.)

The Bible says there was no room for them in the inn, and this may have been just as well. They were sent to a stable, where there was hay for a bed, and some semblance of privacy, except for the animals. This stable was in a cave, cut back in the limestone hill.

Today, from Jerusalem, you can take a local bus ride of 10 minutes to see the cave where Christ was born. Built over the cave is the Church of the Nativity, one of the oldest churches in the world. Recently this church made news as the spot where Palestinians took refuge from the Israelis.

The cave of Jesus' birth is in the basement of the church, where today, there is an altar and a marble floor with a big, bronze star in the floor marking the spot where Jesus was born. Candles and incense burn everywhere

So, back to our story.

Mary and Joseph settled into the cave and made what preparations they could for the birth. They may have felt all alone and very far from home, but God, himself, was keeping close watch over the birth of his son, along with thousands upon thousands of angels and all the company of heaven.

My guess is that Satan also was watching, from afar, and biding his time until he would try to destroy the Christ child. Revelation 12 speaks of this in symbolic terms of the woman clothed with the sun, in the midst of the pains of childbirth. And there was the red dragon, hiding nearby, just waiting for the child to be born, so he could devour him.

And so it was that the fullness of time had arrived, and the Son of God was born in the stable.

If we can imagine it, it would be like the Son of God being born in a slum of New York, just at the time of New Year's celebration in Times Square.

God and his angels, and Satan and his fallen angels were watching as a little Jewish baby was born.

The newborn baby would be bathed and then salt would be rubbed into his skin, in the belief that the salt made the skin hard.

The Jewish mother of that time believed that the arms and legs would grow straight and firm if they were bound tightly to the sides by what were called "swaddling clothes." These were bandages about four or five inches wide and five or six yards long, and may have been carried from home.

With these preparations in place, the newborn Jesus, tightly wrapped, hands at his sides, from shoulder to toe, was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for animals.

Then Baby Jesus was ready to receive visitors. God issued the first invitations, to the nearby shepherds.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2:8-14, KJV.

May you be blessed, with the Christ child born in your heart, even as he was born in that manger in Bethlehem.

Blessings in Jesus,
Father Harold Hammond

Please check out our pages with articles for men and women. Powerful and well written. http://www.shepherdsheartcec.org/WomensMinistry.html and http://www.shepherdsheartcec.org/Men.html

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