The Christmas Story: In Real Life

When we lived overseas, Christmas could be hard. Distance from family, none of the cultural reinforcements queuing that Christmas feeling and work didn’t really stop. One day years ago, reading our kids one of those advent books where you open a door each day to reveal a little more of the Christmas story, our little girl piped up and said, “I’ve been to all these places and seen them with my own eyes!” As a kid I only had pictures to admire and give me a picture of the sights and scenery of the Christmas story. Each year, I like to re-visit our pictures, imagine and remember. So, a little gift from my family to yours. These are the sights of the Christmas story…in real life.

God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary in the village of Nazareth. The angel said, “Greetings! The Lord has blessed you and is with you. You will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. He will be called the Son of the Most High and will reign forever; his kingdom will never end. The holy one to be born to you will be God’s Son. Even your cousin Elizabeth is going to have a child in her old age. Nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May everything you have said come true.” Then the angel left her.

Mary’s house in Nazareth which is now the area under the altar in the largest Christian church in the Middle East.

Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. But before they were married, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. The angel told him that Mary was to have a baby from God. Joseph was to name the baby Jesus because he would save his people from their sins. He would also be called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

Joseph working in his carpentry shop in the re-enactment at Nazareth Village.

At that time, a decree said everyone had to go to his family’s town to register. Joseph was from the family of David, so he and Mary went to Bethlehem, which was David’s home.

About a 100-mile trip with hills, mountains, and rough terrain.

While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the time came for the baby to be born, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The place of Jesus’ birth, under the altar in the Church of the Nativity, built around a cave.

Shepherds living out in the fields nearby were keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

Sheep with their shepherd in Shepherd’s Field just outside Bethlehem.

Sometime later Wise Men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

The Wise Men most likely came from the Nabatean kingdom of Petra which was a main trade thoroughfare for gold, frankincense and myrrh from Arabia.

They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. [you can read more about the Wise Men here]

Camels traveling across the eastern desert.

Soon after his birth, Joseph and Mary presented Jesus to the Lord at the temple in Jerusalem, in keeping with the law.

The temple mount in Jerusalem, about 20 miles from Bethlehem.

That day a godly man named Simeon was in the temple. The Holy Spirit had told him he would see the Messiah before he died. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God for keeping his promise. Simeon said, “I have seen the Savior you have given to the world. He is the Light that will show God to the nations. And he will be the glory of your people.”

Painting in chapel on Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem.

Then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The pyramids of Egypt, just as Jesus and his family must have seen them.

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”


After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
This post first appeared as “The Christmas Story: In Real Life” which was posted on the Apricots Today blog on December 17, 2010. Some narration is taken from the Advent book mentioned above. Bible sources NIV or the Message. Photo credits: author.

About Lindsay Gustafson