Here’s a highly readable version of the Christmas story. Great for families with elementary or junior high school kids, or those who haven’t grown up in church.
At just the time God had planned it from the beginning, He sent a messenger named Gabriel to the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, (in the country of Palestine, which is now Israel). His mission was to see a young woman named Mary. Now Mary was a virgin—she had never been intimate with any man. She was engaged to marry a man named Joseph. Although he was an average guy, his family was descended from Israel’s most famous King David.
Gabriel found Mary and said, “Hello! You are one of God’s favorites.”
This was a highly unusual way to start a conversation with a stranger, and it freaked Mary out. But Gabriel said to her, “It’s OK, Mary, nothing to fear. God is quite pleased with you. So much so that you’re going to be the mother of a son who you’ll name Jesus. He’s going to be amazing and people will call him the Son of God. God himself will set him as king, like his ancestor King David. He’ll reign over all of your people forever—and I mean forever, like never-ending forever.”
“How exactly will this happen,” Mary asked Gabriel, “since I’ve never done anything to get pregnant?”
He answered, “Well, God’s Spirit is going to come and sort of hover over you, and God’s power will cause you to become pregnant, which is why the child will be called the Son of God. Oh, and, did you know that your relative Elizabeth is going to have a baby too—even though she’s supposedly too old to have a baby? Yep, the very one people called a barren old woman is now six months pregnant! God commanded it, so basically, it’s a done deal.”
“Well, I want to serve God with my life,” Mary answered, “so I’m totally on board with this.”
Gabriel left, and Mary got ready and hurried out to the town in Judea where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. As Mary was entering their house, she called out a hello, and at that moment, the little unborn baby John that was inside Elizabeth’s belly jumped, and God’s spirit overpowered Elizabeth. She shouted out, “You’re the most fortunate woman ever, and your child will be fortunate too. And to what do I owe this great honor of a visit from the mother of our future leader? Do you realize that as soon as I heard your voice, my baby jumped for joy inside me? What an incredible honor, this promise from God, and how wonderful that you’re so accepting of it!”
Then Mary said: “I can’t tell you how grateful I am to God, and how happy I am that God has chosen me—even though I’m a nobody. Do you realize I will have a place in history? People will know my name—all because our powerful God has chosen to use me! He has so much compassion on all those—past, present and future—who love him like a Father. It’s amazing how he shows his power: He brushes aside people who are full of themselves. He can bring down an emperor in a skinny minute. On the other hand, he raises the rank of people who never considered themselves deserving of honor. He gives the best food to the hungry, and sends the rich off to beg. Just look at all he’s done for the nation of Israel, just like he promised our great, great… grandfather Abraham he would.
As time passed, it became obvious that Mary was pregnant, but only she knew it was with God’s child. Mary was engaged to marry Joseph. This was really embarrassing to him, but since he was a really nice guy and didn’t want to make a huge scene, he thought he would call off the wedding.
He was just about to do it when he had a dream in which an other-worldly being appeared to him and said, “Joseph Davidson, don’t be afraid to get married to Mary. The child she’s carrying belongs to God’s Holy Spirit. It’s going to be a boy and you will name him Jesus. And he’s going to rescue those who belong to him from the punishment they deserve.”
When Joseph woke up, he believed the dream and married Mary. However, he kept his distance from her until after she gave birth.
Around this same time, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus issued a command that every person in the Roman Empire had to be counted–this included everyone in Israel, which was part of the Roman Empire. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was the governor of Syria, fyi.) So everyone had to go to their grandparents’ home to register. That meant that Joseph had to leave his present home in Nazareth, Galilee, and go back to Bethlehem, Judea, which is where all the Davidson’s were from. He took Mary along, pregnant as she was.
Bethlehem was packed with people and there were absolutely no hotel rooms. People were sleeping everywhere; Mary and Joseph found a barn to sleep in. While they were in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor and gave birth to a son, her first child. Lacking the proper supplies for a newborn baby, they just wrapped him in whatever cloth they could find and used the animals’ feed trough as a cradle.
On the night Jesus was born, there were some shepherds who were watching their sheep in the fields outside of Bethlehem. All of a sudden they saw something amazing surrounding them—not of this world—and then a being appeared to them. It was terrifying.
The being said, “Don’t be afraid. I’ve got great news that’s going to make everyone happy. Today, right over there in Bethlehem, the Rescuer has been born. He’s the one God has appointed to rule. You’ll know you’ve found him when you see a baby wrapped in rags and cradled in a feed trough.”
All of a sudden there was a whole military company of these beings in the sky and they were saying, “All the credit goes to God who lives in the highest places outside of time and space. Peace to the people of Earth who God favors.”
Then they were gone.
The Shepherds said, “We ought to go to Bethlehem and find this baby that… that… those things told us about.”
They rushed off and were able to find Mary, Joseph and the baby, cradled in an animal’s feed trough. After seeing this, they told everyone they could what had happened and who this child was. Everyone who heard their story was amazed. Mary took careful note of everything that was happening and she contemplated it—not with her head, but with her heart.
The shepherds eventually went back to tending sheep, but for a long time after, they marveled and were in awe at how God announced the child’s birth to them and how they found the child exactly as the being had described.
This all went down just the way God said it would hundreds of years earlier through the words of a prophet: “A virgin will get pregnant and give birth to a son who will be known as God with us on Earth.”
After baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, some scientists from somewhere farther east (possibly modern-day Iran, Iraq, India or China) arrived in Jerusalem wanting to know, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve been studying the stars and saw the cosmic sign that he was born. We want to honor him.”
This was news to King Herod, and not the good kind. In fact, it had all of Jerusalem in a clamor. He called together all the top dogs of the church and the law and asked where this appointed child was supposed to be born, according to the ancient texts.
“In Bethlehem, Judea,” they replied. “An ancient prophet wrote, ‘Don’t belittle yourself, Bethlehem. Stand tall among the rest of Judea because you are going to be the hometown of a ruler who will guide my people, Israel.’”
Behind closed doors, Herod met with the scientists from the east and got them to tell him the exact time the star they followed had appeared. He sent them on to Bethlehem with instructions to, “Search out the child, and as soon as you find him, send news to me so I can come and honor him too.”
With this, they left, and they were able to follow the celestial body right to the place where Jesus was residing. It just hung over the place. They could hardly believe their eyes and were overjoyed. When they entered the house, they saw Jesus with his mother, Mary, and they got down on hands and knees and pledged their confidence and service. Then they brought Christmas gifts: presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh—all really expensive stuff in those days.
That night, the scientists had a dream that warned them against King Herod, and wise men that they were, they decided not to go back the same way they came, so they could avoid seeing Herod.
Eventually, the happy little family settled down in the town of Nazareth, Galilee. Jesus grew up strong, he was full of wisdom and God made him gifted and talented.
That’s the end of the Christmas story, but that same baby Jesus grew up to be the reason we celebrate Easter too. All of this happened more than 2000 years ago, but Jesus is still important because he is the Son of God, and He lives in the hearts of people all around the world who know God as their Father.