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Editorial: The Magic of the Nativity

A twice-told tale

Editor's note: a version of this editorial first appeared on Christmas Day 2002.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed . . .

Christmas is quite possibly the only good news ever to have started with a tax hike.

. . . And Joseph went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being with child . . .

Next time you're grumbling about the 42 Freeway or Route 202, imagine a husband and pregnant wife setting out on a seven-mile journey with only a donkey, just for the privilege of paying the tax man.

. . . While they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn . . .

These days, a husband who didn't call ahead in such circumstances would probably be booed off Dr. Phil's show.

. . . And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night . . .

Just think of it. They managed this feat without benefit of a farm bill.

. . . Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid . . .

For they knew not of special effects or George Lucas. And yet, to their everlasting credit, these anonymous shepherds did not flee.

. . . And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Who among us today would not have asked for proof, or three forms of ID? Such skepticism has not changed much in 2,000 years, judging from what the angel said next:

. . . "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

Today, slick marketers give us a materialistic twist on this good news: that you just might find a luxury sedan gift-wrapped in your driveway.

. . . The shepherds said one to another: "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is to come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." And they came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. . . .

There was neither a camera crew, nor a blogger, nor a twitterer, to document the moment. Yet their discovery is better known to more people than just about any event in history.

. . . And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all that heard it wondered . . .

Most modern citizens wonder about miracles, too. In an age in which man can create nearly anything, are real miracles diminished by comparison?

Not at all. You can still find miracles around you today: in a child's impatient delight at dawn, in the warm clasp of hands around the dinner table, in the quiet, soft glow of lights when this busy day is done.

These familiar pleasures are bestowed again today through faith and tradition that has been nurtured and preserved for two thousand years. That, in itself, is miraculous.

The story is ancient. May our spin on it never be completely new and improved.