Old story always fresh each Christmas season

Published 7:10 am Wednesday, December 20, 2023

By Steve Sticker

Nazareth had a population of around 480, and like any small town, everybody knew everybody. Mary and her parents, Anne and Jochim, lived a block away and sat a few rows in front of them in the Synagogue.  Joseph and Mary attended the same school, had mutual friends, and knew each other well.

It seemed to Joseph and his friends that overnight Mary had grown from a pious child to a beautiful holy young teen. It was customary at that time for girls and boys aged 12-15 to marry.  Joseph, 20, had never married.

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As daughters became young teens (or before) parents arranged their marriage.  They did so not by attractiveness to each other (in fact the couple might never have met) but for status, financial stability, and was assumed they would grow in love.  

Mary’s exceptional holiness was well known and the High Priests undertook the task of matching her with a husband.  A dozen young men were selected and told to bring their walking staffs with them.  If their staff burst into flowers it was God’s sign that he was the chosen one for Mary.

Although slightly older, Joesph was amongst those selected to attend the gathering.  Feeling he was too old and couldn’t compete with those younger, didn’t bring his staff.  Amazed that none of the eligible bachelors was selected, the high priest noting this, told Joseph to go home, get his staff, and return. When he arrived, a white dove immediately landed on the staff and it burst into blossoms!

They were wed according to Jewish custom but before they lived together, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, “Hail full of grace, the Lord has found favor on you and you are to be the mother of God!”  Mary responded how could this be as she did not know man. “The Holy Spirit will come to you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Then, Mary’s Fiat, “Yes. Be it done to me according to God’s will.”

Excitedly, Mary told Joseph all this, and he, understandably skeptical, decided to quietly divorce her when Gabriel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife. 

When Mary was due, King Herod, wanting to find this newborn king threat to kill him, discovering he was to be born in Bethlehem, proclaimed a census and had all boys 1-2 years of age born there, slaughtered.  But before this, Mary and Joseph walked the 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem from where Joseph was born, taking four days, accompanied by beloved donkey, “Bo.”  

Arriving in Bethlehem, Mary undergoing birth pains desperately needed a place to deliver our Lord.  Everyone new Joseph but had no vacancies until the last lodging providing them shelter in their stable – perfect accommodations, dry, warm, the owner’s wife helped deliver baby Jesus, the “Lamb of God” and wrapped him in swaddling clothes – as was the custom for lambs that were to be sacrificed as they had to be free from blemishes and were protected in the manger hewn out of rock.

Humbly born in a manger, not castle, then Gabriel invited the shepherds first to the manger, another sign of humility as shepherds had low social status, and with the wisemen were guided by the Bethlehem Star in the East. After the birth, the Holy Family fled into Egypt to escape Herod.

Christmas (Christ’s Mass), Jesus incarnate (God and man), came to save us and at his birth time was split from Nazareth BC (Before Christ) to Bethlehem AD (Anno Domini) Latin, “In the year of the Lord.”


Steve is an Oxford resident, received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from Ole Miss, and can be reached at, sstricke@olemiss.edu