In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” I can still hear my father’s voice reading that first sentence from “The Christmas Story.” Every Christmas morning growing up, and continuing when my daughters were children, we could not open any gifts until after “The Christmas Story” was read from Daddy’s Bible. As a child I remember being at the same time spell-bound by the magnitude of the words of the story, and anxious to get to the end so that the present distribution could begin. My Daddy grew up in far Eastern Arkansas, and his voice was strong, slow, and Southern.
Daddy died of a sudden heart attack in the summer of 1988, the year that Melissa turned 7 and Mary turned 5. We were all stunned, and still grieving when Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around that year. Melissa was a strong early reader, and had been asked to read the passage from Luke 2:1-20 at the church’s Christmas Eve service. On Christmas morning when the family gathered to open gifts Daddy’s chair was empty, and the Bible lay on the table beside it. Almost without a second thought, Melissa climbed into the chair and took the Bible and began reading the story.
Our family still reads the story every Christmas morning. It’s important to hear the words from scripture before launching into opening gifts because God’s gift of Jesus Christ – the baby in the manger – is why we celebrate Christmas in the first place. I assume that my father’s grandfather, and his grandfather, read the story before opening gifts in their generations. And I hope that my grandchildren and their grandchildren will read it on Christmas morning in their time. The voices change, but the story remains the same.
Contributed by Rev. Leslie Belden