The woman was little more than a girl—and tired, so tired. She swayed slightly on the back of the plodding donkey, and the older man who walked beside her reached out a steadying hand and said encouragingly, “Be of good comfort, Mary; we shall soon be to Bethlehem..

She shifted her heavy body and smiled wanly at him. It had been such a long, hard journey, and since noon there had been a queer, persistent pain in the small of her back which had grown worse as the hours passed. She hadn’t mentioned it to her husband.  He was such a good man, the thought with a rush of feeling. He had been filled with worry over her making this hard trip in her condition. She sighed unconsciously and let her mind drift back over the events of the past few months.

It had all started with the stranger who had appeared so suddenly in her room early that first morning. She hadn’t heard him enter, but she hadn’t really been frightened when she looked up and saw him standing there.  There was a compelling glow about him, and when he spoke, it was in a kind, compassionate voice.

Still, the words left her troubled, and came back to her quite plainly. “Hail, thou that art highly favored; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women. Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS.

“He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father of his father David; and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

He went on further to explain how this shall be, and Mary remembered her willing submission when she answered him, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

Then there was that curious visit to her cousin Elizabeth. After a life of barrenness, Mary found her indeed expecting a child in her old age.  It was just as the stranger had said. In the three months that she visited there, Elizabeth’s husband Zacharias spoke not a word.  Cousin Elizabeth told her that he had suddenly been stricken speechless some six months before. Mary mused on, remembering how her cousin had greeted her with a blessing, and wondering at the words that poured from her in reply.

The twinkling of lights in the distance brought her out of her reverie. Dusk had fallen, and they were nearing the city of Bethlehem. “Soon, Mary, we shall be at the inn,” Joseph comforted her.  Mary realized that the pain in her back had grown steadily worse, and the thought of a bed cheered her.

As she waited in the courtyard for her husband to secure a room, she was struck by the multitudes of people that milled to and fro. Many, many people had to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. As Joseph returned, she could tell by the droop of his shoulders that he was the bearer of bad news. He tried to smile at her as he told her, “Mary there is no room for us in the inn.”  “But,” he continued in brighter tones, “The innkeeper said we could sleep in his stable. What do you want to do?”

Even a bed of straw was welcomed by Mary, who realized that her time of delivery had come. The next few hours was a kaleidoscope of sound, and pain, and at last joy, as Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. The fragrance of fresh hay filled the stable as Mary wrapped her son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.

There was a sudden burst of noise at the door, and Mary looked up to see several rough-garbed shepherds talking excitedly. It seemed that while they were out in the field nearby watching their sheep, and angel had come upon them. “We were so frightened,” one of them said. “The glory of the Lord was shining all around.”  “He told us not to fear,” another of them continued. “He said he brought good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people—that a Savior was born today in the city of David, which is Christ the Lord.

“He said the sign would be, that we would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. Then there was a whole multitude of angels praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’—we came as fast as we could—“and stopping abruptly. They fell on their knees and began worshipping the baby.

Mary lay on the hay, and pondered these things in her heart. There were darker days ahead, and the time would come when she would know the true meaning of the words spoken by Simeon at the circumcising of Jesus. (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also.)  But now she was at rest; her heart full of thanksgiving for her beautiful, healthy baby.

For some reason, her mind kept returning to the words she heard on the last Sabbath when the scribe had read from the book of Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” She sighed, and snuggled her baby closer. Just a baby, but the Hope of the World!

The events that happened so long ago in the hills of Judaea are still echoing in our hills today—and throughout the whole world.  Jesus is still the Hope of the World.  I am thankful for Mary, who was blessed among women. I rejoice with the angels who sang, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” I am so glad that the angel told Mary that she would bring forth a son, and call his name JESUS, for he would save his people from their sins.

I praise God most of all for the greatest gift the world has ever known—“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Whosoever” included me.

(I want to thank my friends and readers for sending the beautiful, heartfelt Christmas cards.  I wish I could personally acknowledge each one of them.  I do sincerely wish each one a wonderful Christmas season, with all the love, hope and blessings that Jesus Christ can bring.)