The Oldest Christmas Story. Enjoy! Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
It had snowed on the Gray-Haired Mountain that December and the winter’s icy breath had rolled down along the valleys of the Judaean Mountains, covering them with a white blanket that dissipated as soon as one set foot on it.
Some might not even call these mountains such, but rather nests of sleeping turtles for their soft curvatures, yet they all agree that it is these mountains here, as old as the first thought, that God uses to describe His omniscient and constant presence to His people.
It had snowed that December and the air smelled clean, like a white linen that’s been washed and set in the sun to dry. And this, some say, it wasn’t by chance.
It was a time when ambitious, assertive republics became empires and a time of skilled, yet overlooked nations. It was a time when the Roman Empire reached its peak, stretching westwards across Hispania, eastwards across Pannonia and Dacia, and even over the big sea, Mare Nostrum (Our Sea) how Romans called the Mediterranean, and all the way to the African continent, and to Judea.
Desiring to know how many subjects he ruled over, ravenous Roman emperor Caesar Augustus gave a decree that everyone be counted. But not in the places where they lived, where they had business and had built homes, but in the place where the head of each family had been born. Be it where it may be.
And so the people packed up their families, provisions to last them the entire journey, and traveled. The wealthy ones in carriages, the poorest ones by foot, others with the aid of donkeys. None thought to fight the Emperor’s authority, for in those times, much like now, people recognized and obeyed the tradition of authority.
So did Joseph and his wife Mary who traveled for ninety long miles (about 144 kilometers) in a cold winter, along dangerous roads littered with pirates of the desert and robbers too. For a whole week.
They started their journey from their home in Nazareth, perhaps after a rushed breakfast of dried bread, and followed the flat bed of Jordan river heading south along the water. Its gushing waters would have made them feel, at first, as if they too advanced at great speed. Yet soon after the first excitements of a trip wore off the path, too, somehow went uphill, then downhill again, uphill and downhill. And the journey soon became a tiresome one.
Especially for Mary, who was with child.
And where a traveler would have covered 20 miles in a day (as much as 32 kilometers), Mary and Joseph could only do half. Yet Joseph did not push Mary, and Mary did not complain. They drew strength from each other and they put one foot after the next. Through rain and sleet, for winter days are rainy in Judea, and winter nights turn frigid. One foot after the next, thinking of the end of their journey. Of the birth of their child. Hoping for a healthy babe, and a safe return back to Nazareth. To their life as they knew it.
Maybe Joseph’s feet turned wet and cold. Maybe Mary’s hands became stiff on the reins, her back aching. Joseph would have walked by her side, one hand supporting his heavy wife. Mary would have caressed his beard. And they would have found the strength to smle at one another.
And when they stopped for lunch, they probably shared some oil with bread that Mary had packed for their trip. And in the evening, they probably devoured more bread, this time with herbs and oil. A traveler’s frugal meal.
Thus Mary and Joseph traveled that December, overcome by the long journey ahead and by the heavy woolen cloaks on their backs, but shielding an ember of hope in their hearts. It was this hope that saw them through the next part of their journey, through the forests lining the Jordan River, forests where bears, wild boars and even lions made den.
Finally, they made it to Bethlehem, but with so many people returning here to be counted, and with Mary and Joseph arriving late, the two could find no space at Joseph’s distant family, nor in an inn, where Joseph asked, although their money was tight.
Some space, a dry roof, was finally found in a manger, by a busy tavern. And since it was time, and Mary had been traveling for a whole week, the babe was born that night.
Donkeys and a sheep or two were also nearby, sharing the dry barn, their breath warm, smelling of hay, their bodies radiating heat. And perhaps that other travelers were also taking shelter in that small space, and the women would have helped Mary, for it is human nature to help those in need. Maybe Joseph even went to find a midwife, as it was custom at the birth of a baby.
The baby was born, healthy, surrounded by love.
And all was good in that stable, all was good in the world.
The ember of hope that Mary and Joseph had carried in their hearts was finally there, and it is said that a star just as bright, maybe even brighter, shone that night above the manger.
Why was that?
God had a grand plan with His special Son. And He wanted all to know of His birth, yet He did not tell the Emperor of Rome, nor the King of Judea. God was a God of all people, so this is whom He let know first.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,” said He, through an angel to three shepherds – and their woolly dog – who were watching their flock on a field not far from the manger. The shepherds were not wealthy in money, nor had they many sheep, but they had faith. And so they were not scared by the sight of the angel, their woolly dog did not bark, yet they rejoiced, feeling God’s presence, and immediately left for Bethlehem, to see this special babe. And, soon after, to tell others of the great happening. And to show them the star.
Yet humankind was not quite ready to accept the authority of such a tradition without proof. God knew it, Jesus knew it too.
Had Mary, the mother, known it as well, in her heart?
Had she know that her smile for her newborn son would have been her last smile? That securing her baby in her arms, in that rugged barn, would have been the last time she’ll ever be able to keep him safe?
The tapestry of the oldest Christmas story took centuries to weave and it needed many hands to be finished, so that we can enjoy its story and its meaning today, an ember to treasure in our own hearts.
Scholars may argue here and there. 🙂 But I do hope that by reading this, the Oldest Christmas Story, some peace will come upon you this December.
Merry Christmas! “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (The Gospel According to St. Luke)
Copyright © Patricia Furstenberg. All Rights Reserved.
21st of December update 🙂
As we saw it from our yard tonight, the Christmas Star or the Star of Bethlehem:
The Christmas Star, or the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Astronomers call it Saturn’s planetary dance. The two planets appear to be separated by as much as the thickness of coin, when actually they are 400 million miles apart!
Jupiter and Saturn line up every 20 years or so, but this year they line up in December .
And we also spotted a Christmas tree made of clouds:
Towards my books on Amazon. 🙂