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The story of Christmas

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The story of Christ's birth has been handed down for centuries, based primarily on the Christian gospels of Matthew and Luke. The gospels of Mark and John do not address the childhood of Jesus, and those of Matthew and Luke highlight different events.



According to Luke, Mary learned from an angel that she was with child, by virtue of impregnation by the Holy Spirit without intercourse. Shortly thereafter, she and her husband Joseph left their home in Nazareth to travel to Joseph's ancestral home, Bethlehem, to enroll in the census ordered by the Roman emperor, Augustus. Finding no room in inns in the town, they set up primitive lodgings in a stable. There Mary gave birth to Jesus in a manger or stall. Christ's birth in Bethlehem of Judea, the home of the house of David from which Joseph was descended, fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah.

Matthew's gospel begins by recounting the genealogy and virgin birth of Jesus, and then moves to the coming of the Wise Men from the East to where Christ was staying after his birth in Bethlehem. This mentions no trek to Bethlehem from Nazareth, and is often cited as a contradiction, but logically is not contradictory, as it makes no statement that they did not take a journey. The wise men, or Magi, first arrived in Jerusalem and reported to the king of Judea, Herod the Great, that they had seen a star, now called the Star of Bethlehem, heralding the birth of a king. Further inquiry led them to Bethlehem of Judea and the home of Mary and Joseph. They presented Jesus with treasures of "gold, frankincense and myrrh". While staying the night, the Wise Men had a dream that contained a divine warning that King Herod had murderous designs on the child. Resolving to hinder the ruler, they returned home without notifying Herod of the success of their mission. Matthew then reports that the family next fled to Egypt to escape the murderous rampage of Herod, who had decided to have all children of Bethlehem under two killed in order to eliminate any local rivals to his power. After Herod's death, Jesus and his family returned to Bethlehem.



Another aspect of Christ's birth which has passed from the gospels into popular lore is the announcement by angels to nearby shepherds of Jesus' birth. Some Christmas carols refer to the shepherds observing a huge star directly over Bethlehem, and following it to the birthplace. The Magi, who Matthew reports seeing a giant star as well, have been variously translated as "wise men" or as "kings". They are supposed to have come from Arabia or Persia, where they could have gotten their gifts of "gold, frankincense and myrrh". Some astronomers and historians have proposed to explain what combination of traceable celestial events might explain the appearance of a giant star that had never before been seen, but there is no agreement among them.[1]






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