During the reign of the Emperor Augustus as head of the Roman Empire, a decree was issued that a census was to be taken. In the Holy Land, every Israelite was instructed to go to the town of his family's origin for the census count. Judea's ruler at the time was King Herod, a wicked man who was feared and disliked by the people.
Joseph and Mary, both of them descendants of King David, were to go to Bethlehem, called the City of David, to be enrolled in the census. Bethlehem was a small town and when Joseph and Mary arrived they could find no place for lodging.
Night was falling and as there was no room for them at the inn, Joseph and Mary took refuge in a lowly stable, a cave-like place used by shepherds in herding their flocks when the weather was stormy. Here, at midnight, Mary gave birth to a son, Jesus. Wrapping the Infant in swaddling clothes she laid Him upon the straw in the manger. The prophecy of Micah was thus fulfilled and in this lowly manner began the Greatest Life Ever Lived.
As shepherds watched their flocks in the clear, beautiful night, a great brightness came about, turning the dusk into daylight. The shepherds were afraid.
An angel appeared and calmed them, saying, "Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall come to all people. Today in Bethlehem, the City of David, the Saviour Jesus who is Christ the Lord is born. This shall be a sign to you and you shall find the Infant lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes."
A multitude of angels then appeared, glorifying God and singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." After the angels had disappeared, the great light faded and the darkness of the night settled down over the land.
Christmas Eve marks the beginning of twelve days of celebration in the Orthodox Church. The Advent fast is concluded and the Feast of the Nativity begins.
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, hath shown forth upon the world the light of Wisdom: for at it those that worshipped the stars were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee.
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