Indeed, as the inscription in my mum’s neat handwriting says, Luke’s gospel does contain “The original Christmas story.” Which is why I’m sharing this story with you on this Christmas Eve.
A little while ago, a Queensborough-area friend gave me something very special that I have been waiting until this night, Christmas Eve, to share with you.
In the 1960s and ’70s, when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse, Christmas cards were a bigger deal than they are now. It seemed like everyone sent Christmas cards. And probably because my father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was the local United Church minister, our family was on practically everyone’s Christmas-card list; I remember the cards arriving in heaps. We kids used to love to look through all the colourful cards – displayed thanks to masking tape and thumbtacks around most of the Manse’s interior doorways – and to read the hand-written messages. It was a lovely, friendly tradition.
My family in turn sent out cards by the dozens, if not the hundreds, every year; somewhere kicking around the Manse here I have a copy of my parents’ list, circa 1968, of names of members of Dad’s churches‘ congregations and other local residents to whom cards were to be sent. The list just goes on and on and on, and brings back many memories of good people no longer with us. (And happily, some of the names on the list are still with us!)
Sometime in the early 1970s, however, Dad decided that our Christmas cards should be in a different form. And so for a few Christmases – probably four, since there are four gospels – we sent out small booklets produced by the Canadian Bible Society, each one containing one of the gospels in what was called “Today’s English Version.” (I don’t know a lot about different versions and translations of the Bible, save that the one I use most is the Revised Standard Version, and I find the cadences of the King James Bible as magnificent as the English language gets. “Today’s English Version,” later called the Good News Bible, was, I believe, an attempt to put it in “words that everyone could understand.” It was not the first or last such attempt, and while the goal is undoubtedly laudable, the poetry and beauty of the biblical language are generally tossed overboard in these editions. Anyway, it was the ’70s; what can I say?)
I have good childhood memories of helping my parents stuff and address the envelopes containing these little booklets. It was quite a project, let me tell you.
But it was all only a memory until that recent gift to which I referred at the top. The gift was two of those little Christmas booklets:
My family’s Christmas cards in 1972 (Good News by a Man Named Luke) and 1974 (Good News by a Man Named Mark). What a gift to have these little booklets once again!
The “good news” by Luke had been sent by my family at Christmas 1972, and is, as you’ve seen from the photo at the top of this post, inscribed by my mum, Lorna Sedgwick, on behalf of the whole family. The copy of Mark’s gospel was sent at Christmas 1974, the final Christmas that my family lived here. And this one is inscribed in the hand of my late father:
I expect you can now understand how much this gift – having once again those booklets sent out by my family all those Christmases ago – meant to me.
So this being Christmas Eve and all, and in the spirit of the original reason for those booklets being sent out to friends, neighbours and parishioners, I’d like to give you “the original Christmas Story,” as my mum put it, as it is written in Good News by a Man Named Luke. I’ve also included the rather cool modern (that is, 1970s modern) line drawings that are included in the little book, one showing people going to be enrolled (as the King James Version has it; here they are “registering themselves for the census”), and the other, quite delightful, showing the shepherds gazing up in wonder at the angels. If you too experience that sense of wonder and joy this Christmas, then the Christmas wish that my parents sent out from the Manse all those years ago will have been fulfilled.
The Original Christmas Story
At that time Emperor Augustus sent out an order for all the citizens of the Empire to register themselves for the census. When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own town.
Joseph went from the town of Nazareth, in Galilee, to Judea, to the town named Bethlehem, where King David was born. Joseph went there because he himself was a descendant of David. He went to register himself with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger – there was no room for them to stay in the inn.
There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them: “Don’t be afraid! For I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very night in David’s town your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord! This is what will prove it to you: you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven!
And peace on earth to men with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, that the Lord has told us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him they told them what the angel had said about this child. All who heard it were filled with wonder at what the shepherds told them. Mary remembered all these things, and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them.