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To: From:

You’re Invited to Begin Your Christmas at:

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written by Paul Langham

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The Christmas Story: A Fresh Retelling of the Birth of Jesus Text Copyright © 2012 by Paul Langham Cover Copyright © 2012 by Outreach Published under license from Kingsley Books, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee Some of the selections in this book based on the gospel of Matthew are adapted from Who? by Paul Langham and published with permission of The British and Foreign Bible Society www.biblesociety.org.uk All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, photocopy, recording, scanning or other, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved worldwide. Published by Outreach, Inc., Colorado Springs, CO 80919 www.outreach.com ISBN: 978-1-935541-76-9 Written by: Paul Langham Cover Design: Tim Downs Interior Design: Alexia Garaventa Printed in the United States of America

The ChrisTmas sTory: A Fresh retelling oF the Birth oF Jesus

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Before You Begin … Two thousand years ago there lived a man named Jesus, whose life, teachings, and death—and the claim by His followers that God raised Him to life again—changed the course of human history. Four of His closest friends wrote accounts of His life, called gospels, which simply means “good news.” Most of what we know about Jesus’ birth was written by two of them, Matthew and Luke. This is the story of Christmas as told by His friends. But the story really begins hundreds of years before Jesus was born. God’s messengers promised that God would send a Savior to our world. These prophets made remarkable predictions about the birth of Jesus, such as these: Look for this sign that the Savior is coming—a virgin will have a baby boy. He will be called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” based on Isaiah 7:14 Keep an eye on Bethlehem; it’s a one-horse kind of town, and yet this will be the birthplace of the Savior. There will be a godly strength and majesty about Him. But He will be an entirely new kind of king—He won’t lord it over people; rather, He’ll lead them tenderly, just like a shepherd leads His sheep. God has planned this from the dawn of time. based on Micah 5:2, 4

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What a gift this child will be to us! What a wonderful counselor He will grow to be, for He will be none other than the mighty God, our eternal Father. He will wear peace like a crown. based on Isaiah 9:6 What follows in this little booklet is the story of Jesus’ birth that His friends recorded in the gospels, but written like it might sound if the story were written today. And here we tell only the beginning of the life of Jesus, the beginning we celebrate at Christmas time. So after you’ve read this booklet, we encourage you to read the entire life of Jesus in one of the many modern versions of the Bible. You’ll find the gospels at the beginning of the section called the New Testament. Jesus’ friends wrote their accounts of His birth to help people understand that in Jesus Christ, God came to earth in human form at the first Christmas. One of the names for Jesus, Emmanuel, means “God with us.” It is amazing to think that the God who created the world and designed the human body was born like all other babies and experienced what it is like to be human. Christians believe that the end of Jesus’ life was even more significant than His birth. We believe that through His death, Jesus made it possible for us to be at peace with God and to have the assurance of eternal life. It is our prayer that this little booklet will introduce you to this God who is indeed with us.

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In the Beginning Our world is an extraordinary place, a place of breathtaking beauty and fragility. It teems with life in mind-boggling variety, from the things we can see—birds, fingers, leaves—to those we can only imagine—the farthest galaxies spinning in the vastness of the cosmos. And it all sprang from the mind of God. Before anything existed, before time itself began its relentless rhythm, God was. “In the beginning,” we read, God spoke a word of creative power, and the heavens and the earth came into being. The person we have come to know as Jesus was that Word; He was with God from the very first, sharing His nature. Jesus was the architect and agent of creation; He fashioned it all. He was Life itself, and His life offered light to every man, woman, and child. Jesus still shines like a beacon in the darkness of this world, guiding us home to God, a steady light that the darkness can never extinguish. based on John 1:1–5

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1

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Why Jesus Came to Earth Jesus was born as a little baby, a tiny part of the very world He had fashioned. He lived among the very people He had lovingly crafted, but hardly anyone recognized or welcomed their Maker. But to those who did welcome and receive Him, to those who believed He was God’s Son, He gave the right to become His brothers and sisters in God’s family. This is something no one can achieve for themselves; it has nothing to do with human biology—it’s a gift from God. So Jesus became a human being and lived as one of us. Those of us who followed Him while He lived on earth saw Him for who He really was—the glorious, only Son of God, the benchmark of grace and truth. based on John 1:11–14 “The very reason I’m in the world,” Jesus said, “is to do what Father God wants me to do. His heart’s desire is that I receive all who put their trust in Me; and I will raise every single one of them to eternal life at the end of time.” based on John 6:38–39

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14

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Events Leading Up to Jesus’ Birth Many hundreds of years before Jesus was born, God had promised His people that He would send a Savior to our world. This promise was recorded and written down by messengers to whom God revealed the future. The Savior would be called Messiah or Christ; both words mean “Chosen One.” Part of the promise was that He would be descended from David, Israel’s greatest king, and that’s exactly what the family tree of Jesus Christ shows. In fact, His ancestors go right back to Abraham himself. based on Matthew 1:17

If Only We Had a Child In the days when Herod was puppet-king of Judea under the Roman emperor, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He and his wife, Elizabeth, were godly people and led blameless lives. The only thing missing from their lives was a child. They would have dearly loved to be parents, but because of their advanced ages, all hope was gone. One day, a day that began just like any other, Zechariah was on duty in the temple and people were worshipping outside as usual. Without warning an angel appeared in the temple. Zechariah nearly jumped out of his skin, but the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. My name is Gabriel, and I’ve come from God with good news! God has heard your prayers. Elizabeth is going to have a baby boy, and you are to name him John. What a joy he will be to you both, and not just to you—many people will thank God for him. God will fill him with His Holy Spirit, and he will reawaken

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the faith of many people. He will prepare God’s people to receive their Savior.” Zechariah found this news hard to believe. After all, what the angel was telling him was humanly impossible. The angel told Zechariah he would be unable to speak until the baby’s birth because he had not believed what the angel had told him. Outside, people were beginning to wonder what had happened— Zechariah had been in the temple much longer than usual. When he came out and started using sign language, they realized he had seen a vision. Sure enough, Elizabeth became pregnant, and she praised God for blessing her with such an unexpected gift. based on Luke 1:5–25

Nothing Is Impossible with God About six months later God sent the same angel, Gabriel, to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to visit a young virgin named Mary, who was engaged to a man named Joseph. They were an ordinary young couple, enjoying all the excitement of planning their future. The sudden appearance of an angel gave Mary a terrible fright, but the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. I am Gabriel, and I’ve been sent with a message from God for you. God is pleased with you.” Mary was badly shaken. What on earth could the angel mean? But Gabriel reassured her. “There’s no need to be afraid, Mary. God is pleased with you, and you are going to have a baby boy. You are to name Him Jesus. He will be a great man and will be known as God’s Son. God is going to give Him the throne of His ancestor King

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David. But unlike David, your Son’s kingdom will never end.” “But how?” Mary asked. “I’m a virgin.” Gabriel explained that God’s Holy Spirit would cause her to conceive supernaturally without a human man’s involvement, and he reminded Mary that Zechariah’s wife, one of her own relatives, was now well into her pregnancy. Gabriel encouraged Mary to believe that nothing is impossible with God. Mary responded with simple, accepting faith. “I’m honored to serve God in whatever way He sees fit. Let it happen just as you say.” After Gabriel left her, Mary wasted no time going to see Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, her own baby leaped inside her, she was filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and she cried out, “Oh Mary, Mary, what a wonderful joy this is! You’ve been honored above all other women to be carrying a child such as this. How glorious that you believed what God said would come to pass.” All the joy in Mary’s heart tumbled out in spontaneous praise to God:

How wonderful God is! He’s my Savior! He’s amazing—taking an interest in someone as ordinary as me! Future generations will marvel at what God has done for me. He’s perfect, flawless! His mercy knows no limits, wrapping itself around all who revere Him

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across the generations. No one can match His strength. No one can match His deeds. He brings the haughty down to earth with a bump— even those who sit on thrones! But He welcomes with open arms those who recognize they are nothing special. He fills the hungry to bursting, but those who consider themselves rich enough without Him, He turns away empty handed. He stands by His people and never forgets His promises. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. based on Luke 1:26–56

God Never Forgets His Promises In due course Elizabeth gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives rejoiced with her because God had shown her this great kindness. Everyone in the family was all set to name the boy after his father, but Elizabeth insisted he was to be named John. This was quite a departure from tradition, and the relatives were uncertain what to do. Zechariah was still unable to speak, so they gave him a clay tablet and asked him what he thought. He wrote simply, “His name is John.” As soon as he had done this, in obedience to what the angel had commanded him, Zechariah found he could speak again. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he poured out his praise and wonder:

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What an amazing God we have! Raise the roof with shouts of praise! He’s about to make good on His promises of old. Watch His salvation plan unfold! He’s going to pluck us clean out of our enemies’ hands and shower us with mercy because He never forgets His promises. He’ll ride to the rescue and sweep us away from all who hate us, so that we can live God’s way without fear to the end of our days. As for you, my precious son, you will be a mighty messenger of God. You’ll roll out the red carpet for the Savior whom God is about to send. He will unlock the gate of salvation and make forgiveness possible for everyone. God’s tender love will be like the rising sun, shining through the darkness of dawn, driving away even death’s deep shadows, so that we can once again follow the path of peace. John’s birth became the talk of the whole region, and there was intense speculation about what great things the child would do when he grew up. John grew into a fine young man, strong and godly in character. He lived in the desert, waiting for his moment to come. based on Luke 1:57–79

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The Birth of Jesus When Joseph discovered Mary was pregnant, all he could imagine was that she must have been unfaithful to him. He was a caring man, however, and did not want to shame her, so he decided to break off their engagement with a minimum of fuss. But that night Joseph had a dream in which an angel told him, “Don’t be afraid about marrying Mary. She’s done nothing wrong. Her pregnancy is unique. The baby boy inside her is special, created by God without human intervention. Name Him Jesus, which means ‘Savior,’ because He’ll make it possible for everyone to be forgiven for all the wrong things they have done.” What was happening to Mary had been described by one of God’s messengers some eight hundred years beforehand: A virgin will have a baby boy, and in Him God will live among the people of earth. Joseph did as the angel said and married Mary. But he did not consummate their marriage until her Son, Jesus, was born. based on Matthew 1:19–25

Jesus Is Born A little while later, the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus ordered a census of his entire empire. This required every man to return to his place of birth to register, along with any family he might have. So Joseph had to journey to Bethlehem, King David’s hometown, because he was a descendent of David. Mary, who was heavily

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pregnant, went with him. And so it was that she gave birth to her firstborn Son in Bethlehem. Because of the chaos caused by the census, Mary and Joseph had nowhere to stay except a stable. Mary wrapped her newborn baby snugly and used a manger for a bed. based on Luke 2:1–7

The Shepherds Find the Baby That same night in the fields around Bethlehem, some local shepherds were guarding their flocks. Suddenly the darkness exploded into blazing light, and an angel stood before them. The shepherds were terrified, but the angel said, “Don’t be scared. Listen up! Good news! Joy to the whole world! This very night your Savior—everyone’s Savior—has been born right here in Bethlehem! He’ll be easy to spot. He’s the only newborn baby you’ll find in an animal’s feeding trough.” In an instant the angel was joined by countless others, all singing at once, “God’s glory is splashed across the skies, and His peace has come to earth—peace and favor to all.” As suddenly as the angels had appeared, the night sky was empty and still again. The shepherds jumped up, left everything, and hurried off to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph and the very scene the angel had described: a newborn baby lying in a feeding trough. What a story the shepherds had to tell—and tell it they did to anyone who would listen! Mary made a special place in her heart for these memories and treasured them for the rest of her life. The shepherds went back to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. based on Luke 2:8–20

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This Child Will Shine When Mary’s baby was eight days old, He was circumcised, as were all the Jewish boys that age as a sign of their special relationship with God. He was also named Jesus, the name the angel had given to Mary and Joseph. A little while later the family travelled to Jerusalem for an important ceremony at the temple. It was there that Jesus was dedicated to God, in accordance with the law. There was a holy man in Jerusalem named Simeon, who lived his life God’s way, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. He had spent his life waiting for salvation to come to Israel. The Holy Spirit inspired him to go to the temple on the very day Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God:

Lord God, King over all, You have kept Your promise, and I can now die content because I’ve witnessed the unveiling of Your salvation. This child will shine brightly in the darkness of this world and reveal truth to people across the world and in generations yet to come. Mary and Joseph listened in stunned silence. Then Simeon asked God’s blessing on them and said to Mary, “Your child faces a great and terrible destiny. Some people will walk into life through Him; others will stumble and fall because they refuse to accept the truth He brings; yet others will even turn against Him. The secrets of many hearts will be laid bare. And one day your own heart will be torn in two.” based on Luke 2:21–35

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The Travellers from the East Sometime after Jesus was born in Bethlehem, travellers arrived in Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem, asking, “Where’s the new king? His star has appeared in the night sky, and we’ve followed it here from our homelands far to the east so we can pay Him homage.” When the ruler of the area, Herod, heard this, he was alarmed and began some research of his own, asking the Jewish religious leaders where the Messiah would be born. “In Bethlehem,” they replied, “for the ancient prophecy says: Bethlehem, your future conceals a wonderful privilege; you will produce a ruler to shepherd God’s people.” Herod called the travellers to meet him and persuaded them to tell him when exactly they first saw the star. “Search in Bethlehem,” he told them. “Let me know where you find this baby king. You can be sure I want to pay him homage too …” The travellers set off, and the star led them to the very place where Jesus and His parents were staying. Overjoyed when they saw Jesus, the travellers gave Him lavish gifts that expressed the worship of their hearts. Later, warned in a dream about Herod’s true motives, they quietly slipped out of the country without reporting back to him. That night an angel once again visited Joseph in his dreams. “Get up. There’s no time to lose. You’ve got to get Mary and Jesus out of here now. Go to Egypt and lie low until I tell you. Herod’s

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going to try to kill the child!” Again, Joseph followed the angel’s instructions to the letter and fled to Egypt with Mary and Jesus. When Herod realized he’d been tricked, he exploded with rage and ordered his soldiers to kill every little boy two years old and under in Bethlehem and its region. Long ago the prophet Jeremiah had predicted this: Listen to the voices wailing with the agony of grief; the screams of mothers looking in vain for comfort, for their sons are all dead. Eventually Herod died, and Joseph heard from the angel in a dream once again. “You can go home now,” the angel said. “The coast is clear.” So Joseph took Mary and Jesus back to their own land, where they settled quietly in a little town called Nazareth, in a region named Galilee. One of the messengers of old had predicted this also, saying of the Messiah that He would be known as a Nazarene. based on Matthew 2:1–23 In Nazareth Jesus was obedient to Mary and Joseph. He grew strong in body and wise in character. God smiled upon Him, and people thought highly of Him. Mary once again tucked away these memories in her heart and returned to them many times over the years. based on Luke 2:51–52

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John Baptizes Jesus John lived out in the wilderness around Jerusalem. His lifestyle was as simple as his message—everyone needs to be forgiven by God. Crowds flocked to him from town and countryside, owning up to the wrong in their lives and demonstrating their desire for a fresh start by being baptized in the Jordan River. But John never claimed to be the main act. Over and again he told people, “Keep your eyes peeled for the Chosen One. He’s on His way. Next to Him I’m nothing. What I have to offer you is little more than a down payment on what God intends to give you. For the Chosen One will baptize you with the Spirit of God Himself.” based on Mark 1:1–8 In those days, although Israel was part of the Roman Empire, its religious leaders—a small elite of priests, temple bureaucrats, and pen pushers—governed everyday Jewish life. Some were no doubt godly, but many loved to think they were superior to everyone else, and from the start a significant number opposed Jesus’ message about the kingdom of heaven. Some of these religious bigwigs came from Jerusalem to ask John the baptizer who he was. “Mark me well, I am not the Savior,” he replied. “Who are you, then?” they asked. “We have to put something in our report. Are you Elijah? Or one of God’s other messengers from long ago come back to life?”

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“No,” said John. “I’m nobody that important. But I am mentioned in the writings of one of those prophets. I’m the one Isaiah had in mind when he wrote: I am a voice in the desert, calling out, “Roll out the red carpet for the Lord.” So the religious bigwigs asked him, “If you’re nobody special, why are you baptizing people?” “What I’m doing is just a taste, a sample of what’s to come,” replied John. “Even as we speak, perhaps even among you in this crowd, unknown to you, is the One I’m preparing you to receive. He’s so much greater than I am that I wouldn’t even be worthy to untie His shoes.” This all happened near a village called Bethany, near the Jordan River, where John was baptizing. The very next day, John saw Jesus approaching and cried out, “Look! It’s Him, the Savior God has sent to be a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world! Everything I’ve done has been in preparation for this moment.” based on John 1:19–30 Jesus came to John and was baptized by him. As Jesus came up from the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Holy Spirit resting on Him in the form of a dove. Then God spoke in a voice from heaven, “My Son, I want You to know how much I love You—with You I am well pleased.” based on Mark 1:9–11

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“Even I didn’t know who He was,” John said, “until I baptized Him and the Holy Spirit of God came down from heaven in the form of a dove and rested upon Him. I’d never have known He was the One if God Himself hadn’t told me to look for that sign. Well, now I’ve seen the sign, and I tell you all—this is the Son of God, the Savior of the world!” based on John 1:31–34

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What Next? After reading this little booklet, if you would like to join the millions of people around the world today who seek to follow Jesus Christ, we invite you to pray the prayer on this page. Or you could use your own words. Prayer is not particularly difficult—it’s just like talking to a friend. All you need to do is acknowledge your own wrongdoing, express your belief that Jesus’ death and resurrection sets you free from your sins—not just for the rest of this life but for the whole of eternity—and ask God to come into your life by the power of His Holy Spirit. Dear God, Thank You for showing me the truth about Jesus. I believe that You created everything and love every person who has ever lived, including me. I acknowledge that I have sinned, and I am sorry for living my life apart from You. I believe that You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to show how much You love me. Jesus died for me on the cross. I believe that His death dealt once and for all with the things I have ever done wrong or even will do in the future. I believe He rose from the dead and that His death and resurrection provide new life for me now and forever. I choose today to trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord, and I ask You to give me Your Holy Spirit to help me live as His follower for the rest of my life. Please come into my life, save me, and give me the gift of eternal life. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

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If you have prayed this prayer, we want to welcome you to the family of God. We encourage you to read your Bible regularly and start talking to God day by day, for He is now your heavenly Father and Jesus is your Lord and Savior. We hope that you become part of a local church family that will help you grow in your faith, because it’s much harder to follow Jesus on your own—and not nearly as much fun!

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

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Experience Christmas In A New Way! The Christmas Story: A Fresh Retelling of the Birth of Jesus was written to share with you the real meaning behind Christmas and invite you to enjoy the wonder and significance it brings to our lives. We hope that you will experience Christmas in a brand new way this season and discover its greatest gift!

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Christmas Re-Telling  

Share the story of the first Christmas with a version of the Christmas story written for people who dont read the Bible. The Christmas Story...

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