The First Christmas
You might say that Christmas has been celebrated since the very night of Jesus’ birth, when, the Bible says, the angels announced his arrival on the plains of Bethlehem (in what is now Israel) in an event that was later celebrated in a special Christes Masse, or Christ’s Mass. The actual birth date is something that scholars still debate; however, a combination of Bible stories, historical records, and even astronomical events generally set the year between about 6 B.C. and A.D. 6.
Most of the elements of our traditional Christmas story have their origin in the Bible, in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew. While the two gospels offer some historical contradictions, there’s no doubt that together, they have created a picture of the birth of Jesus that is loved around the world.
Luke’s gospel offers us not only a time and place for the birth of Jesus, but a real human and religious drama. Focusing on the trials of Joseph and Mary, Luke tells us a story of weary travelers forced to spend the night in a stable because there was “no room for them at the inn.” With its focus on the humble manger birth, the gathering of shepherds and angels, and the enduring message of peace on earth, this passage has given some of Christianity’s best loved Christmas songs and traditions.
(Jeffrey, Yvonne, “Everything Family Christmas Book”)
From the Gospel According to St. Luke
The Birth of Jesus
2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
(Holy Bible, NIV)