Once upon a time

"Once upon a time..." Say those words and everyone within earshot will stop to listen. "Once upon a time..." That's how all the great stories of adventure and intrigue and romance start. "Once upon a time..." Hearts gear up for a wild ride at the sound. "Once upon a time..." A frolicking dance through fairy lands is sure to follow.

Well, let me tell you a story, a "once upon a time in a land far, far away" story. Only this story is a true story. It's about a couple of rather common people who get caught up in an exciting adventure.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a young girl named Mary. She was a good girl - not perfect mind you, but good. She loved God with all her heart and worshiped him. She tried to honor him and obey him in every part of her life.

Young Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, a carpenter who lived in her village. Neither of them had much in the way of earthly wealth. Joseph had his shop and his tools. He worked hard for a living. Early mornings and late nights were the norm. The income was steady, but not a lot. Mary lived at home with her parents. She had little to call her own. Her clothes, a mat, a few utensils - that was all. Still both had much they could give thanks for. They had their health, their family, their work. That was enough.

Mary spent her days doing the same old chores. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Mending clothes. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Caring for the sheep. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Sleeping. There was little to break the monotony in Nazareth. We'd call life there boring. Dull. Dreary.

But one day, while she was gathering food, drawing water, cooking, mending clothes, gathering food, drawing water, cooking, caring for the sheep, gathering food, drawing water, cooking, something unusual happened. An angel straight from heaven appeared out of no where. That startled the poor girl a bit, gave her a fright. Angel appearances weren't the norm then, you know.

The angel, his name was Gabriel, said, "Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!" A strange way to greet a poor girl. "Greetings, favored woman!" Sounded like the way you'd address a queen. "Do not be afraid, Mary," the angel went on, "you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." This was big news. Incredible news. Hardly believable. Mary had her doubts. "How will this be?" Mary asked the angel. "I'm a virgin. I can't have a son." The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." That took Mary's breath away. "The Son of God!?! How could it be?" She sat down hard, her head spinning. God wanted her to give birth to his son. She would be the mother of the savior, the one every prophet had said would come. Very quietly, her head bowed low, she breathed her answer. "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." When she looked up, the angel was gone.

Who would believe her if she told? No one, least of all Joseph. Mary left town. I don't know what she told Joseph or her family. They asked questions as she packed her bags, but she just put them off. "I just need time away. I haven't seen my cousin for a while. Elizabeth and Zechariah are such great people. I just want to spend some time with them. I'll be back." And with that she was out the door and down the road.

Three months later, Mary returned to Nazareth. She just slipped into town one day. Showed up at her parents' home. Went back to her routine, humdrum life. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Mending clothes. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Caring for the sheep. Gathering food. Drawing water. Cooking. Sleeping.

But things were different for Mary. She was worried. She was pregnant. No one could tell it yet. She didn't show much - nothing she couldn't cover up with her loose-fitting robe - but how long would that be the case? She knew she couldn't hide the facts forever. Her story was so incredible. No one would believe it. "An angel? God's Son? Yeah right." Mary wouldn't have believed except that it had happened to her. And so as she went about her work each day, she fretted and stewed and plotted and planned, dreading the day she'd be found out.

Joseph, meanwhile, was busy at work, saving and scrimping so he could take his bride home as his wife. He was excited. Couldn't wait till their wedding day. Wanted to be with Mary. The anticipation was almost too much to bear at times. He was, of course, completely unaware of the storm clouds gathering on the horizon. Ignorance is bliss, they say. Joseph was as blissfully ignorant as they come. He hadn't a clue.

Then one day, a rumor came to him. Mary was pregnant. He dismissed it with a wave of the hand. "Couldn't be. She's kept herself for me. I'm sure some listless busybody with nothing better to do than speculate started the whole thing. It's nothing but a lie." But, of course, it wasn't. Joseph was soon confronted with the cold, hard facts. The truth was hard to take. His future wife sullied, spoiled, stained. She had not saved herself for him. At first, he was angry. Then he grieved. He didn't know what to do. The law would allow extreme measures, but he didn't want that for Mary. And so he decided to take care of things quietly. No need for her to suffer public disgrace. He would call of the engagement. She would go off somewhere to have the baby. The whole thing would blow over and he and she could get on with their separate lives. It was the right thing to do.

That's what Joseph had in mind to do when he, like Mary had earlier, received a special visitor in the night. As he dreamt one night, an angel appeared to him. "Joseph," the angel said, "do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, from God. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. Name him that because he will save his people from their sins." Joseph woke with a start, his heart pounding. Mary had been telling the truth. She was carrying God's son. He was to be the Christ. Joseph wanted to shout and cry and dance and pass out all at the same time.

When morning came, he went and took Mary home as his wife. Their wedding day wasn't as he had imagined it, his desires put on hold, but Mary was his wife. His wife. He could hardly believe it.

The months progressed. Mary's pregnancy became more and more obvious. Nazareth was a small town. The gossip started. Sometimes it was just newsy - friends sharing news with friends. Sometimes it was just nasty. It was hard for Mary and Joseph, but they managed. They knew the truth. They knew God's son would soon be born. The savior was coming. The excitement kept them up when life threatened to undo them.

Then it happened. A Roman herald came into town. His message? A census had been ordered by Caesar Augustus. The emperor wanted to know how many citizens he ruled. And he wanted them to be taxed. Everyone was to return to the city of their family's origin. The command was urgent. Now was the time to go.

Joseph and Mary would have to make the trek on foot. They couldn't afford a donkey. Donkeys were for the rich. The trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a trip they had taken many times before, took eight days under normal circumstances. Mary was hardy and strong from long hours of strenuous work, but she was nine months pregnant, nearly bursting at the seams. Who knew how much longer it might take at a pace she could handle?

But go they must, so one morning not long after the decree had been issued, they left town. The miles passed slowly. They stopped to rest often. What else could they do? More than a week passed. A dullness came upon every sense. Their feet were sore. Their backs ached. Their eyes were slits, keeping out the sun and the dirt.

Finally, they arrived. Bethlehem was a blur of activity. They'd never seen it like this. It was a sleepy town. A few hundred people called it home. Now hundreds and hundreds filled the streets. Mary and Joseph walked wearily up to the first inn they saw. No room. At the next inn, same story. No room. All day long. No room. No room. No room. No room. No room. No room. There wasn't a place to be had. Everyone was full up. They didn't care if a poor, young couple slept outdoors. They had money to spare.

And so Mary and Joseph, trudged out into the hills around Bethlehem. Maybe one of the shepherd's caves would have room. They had to have some kind of shelter from the elements. If they couldn't find a clean place, then a sheep's fold would have to do.

Their search didn't last long. They found a cave unoccupied for the time being. They settled in, making themselves at home as much as was possible in a place suited for beasts. Mary immediately fell asleep. Joseph sat next to her and soon he was snoring.

The next morning, Joseph went out to find some water. When he returned, he found Mary awake and looking a bit uncomfortable.

"Are you alright?" he asked. She assured him she was. But an hour later, she wasn't alright. She was having contractions.

"Go get a midwife," she instructed. Joseph ran to town. He hunted and hunted for the midwife. Where was she? She had left town to be registered elsewhere, but there was another in town. After a few minutes search, she was located and led back to the cave. Mary was sweating. The midwife went to work. Joseph was sent out for this and that throughout the day.

Finally, just after nightfall, the stillness was broken by the cry of a baby. The cry was loud and strong. It came from healthy lungs. God's son had been born. Mary cried as she held him close. She nursed him. Then little Jesus was wrapped carefully in cloths. They didn't have anywhere else to lay him, so they padded a stone feeding trough with grass from the hillside and placed the baby there. Not the best bed, but as good a resting place as he needed. God's son wasn't picky. He had come to save.

The midwife left. Joseph and Mary were alone. Alone with God's son. The wonder of it all knocked them to their knees in worship. They fell asleep thanking God for his goodness.

Did you like my story? Was it good enough for "once upon a time"? It was, wasn't it? It's such an amazing story. God came to earth to save us. He came as a baby. He grew. He taught people and loved them and healed them. He died on a cross so that our sins could be taken away and then came back to life so that we could have eternal life.

Now, I suppose you noticed that I didn't say, "The End," when I finished my story. That's the way "once upon a time" stories are supposed to be wrapped up, but this story isn't really over. You see, Jesus is still saving people today. He's been doing it for centuries and he'll continue to do it until he returns - he's promised to do that too. And then everyone who believes in him and asks for the forgiveness he paid for on the cross will be with him forever in heaven. Pretty cool, huh? Eternal life for all who believe. Salvation for every sinner who turns away from his sin.

I wonder. Have you received the gift God gave? Have you asked Jesus to save you? The gift of eternal life is yours for the asking. It can be yours now, if you'll ask for it. I pray you will ask. @By Mike Neifert "Web Message [Rm.501] To subscribe, Email argoniafriends@havilandtelco.com>

Christmas Song by Don Francisco" from Don Fransico's Site"

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Don Francisco - Christmas Song

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