The story of Jesus of Nazareth is one that has been told and retold from generation to subsequent generation. So often has it been recounted, that for many its meaning has been obscured. And yet, the story of Jesus is one endued with an undying power to transform; able to soften the most cynical heart, and rekindle the forgotten flame of the spirit.

To those who hear it for the first time, it is like a sudden spring of cool water springing up in a barren desert. It all begins with an angel's message to a young Jewish girl in the city of Nazareth.

To Mary first, came the good news.

The Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary
Pen and Ink; 14.4x12.4cm; 1635
Besancon, Musee des Beaux-Arts (France)
Let It Be!

"Blessed are you among women! Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord God is with you!" These words were spoken by the angel to Mary. "Do not be afraid," the angel continued, "you have found favor with God. You will give birth to a boy child and you will call his name Jesus. of his kingdom there will be no end."

Mary was perplexed by the angel's words. But the angel comforted her doubts and said, "God's Spirit will overshadow you, and the holy child that is born from your womb will be called God's Son. With God nothing is truly impossible."

Mary listened carefully to all that the angel had to say. Then she gathered her courage and said the most important words of her life: "Let it be to me according to all of your words."

At the conclusion of the first century B.C., a decree was made by Caesar Augustus that all the world should be subjected to a great census. All of the inhabitants of the Roman Empire were forced to comply, and to return to the city or village in which they were born, in order to be registered.

Because Joseph, her betrothed husband, was of the lineage of King David, Mary, too, was forced to leave Nazareth, and even though heavy with child, travel to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. Upon arrival in Bethlehem, the young couple was dismayed to find that all of the inns and hostels were filled to overflowing. Finally, they consented to sleep behind one of the overcrowded inns, in a shelter that was normally inhabited by animals. And so it was that while they occupied this unlikely place, the days of Mary's pregnancy were accomplished. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him among the straw in the manger.

The Angel appears to the shepherds
Pen and brush drawing; 17.6 x 20 cm; c. 1640-42
Hamburg, Kunsthalle

That same night there were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks on the nearby hills. And behold, an angel of God appeared to them, and their hearts were filled with fear. But the angel comforted them and said, "Do not be frightened, for I have come to bring you wonderful news, and great tidings which shall fill the hearts of mankind with great joy. For there is born this night in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you will find this baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, and lying in a manger."

And there appeared with this angel a vast multitude of heavenly beings, praising God and saying:

"Glory be to God in the highest, And on earth peace, and goodwill towards all!"

As soon as the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said among themselves, "Let us hurry, and go down into Bethlehem to see if we can find news of such a birth!"

Not long afterwards, they did indeed find Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying asleep upon a bed of straw. And when they had offered their devotion, they went into the streets, telling everyone what had happened that night. Everyone who heard it, marveled at their fantastic story; while the shepherds returned to their flocks, their hearts overflowing with praise towards God.

The shepherds worship the child
Oil on canvas; 65.5 x 55 cm; c. 1646 London,
National Gallery