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The Christmas Story Retold

When living in Athens, Greece for a year and a half I began to appreciate ancient history preserved by Orthodox Chirstianity.  I therefore felt a version of the Christmas story using their long established traditions should be better known. The primary source for this is the Protovangelium (Gospel) of James which dates back at least to the early half of the second century. 


Chapter 1:

The Birth ofMary

There lived long ago in the land of Judea, Joachim and his wife Anna. Joachim was very rich with many herds of goats and flocks of sheep and a beautiful walled house overlooking cultivated gardens and orchards with pomegranate trees and date palms providing shade and fruits. Anna also enjoyed the advantages of their prosperity, tending her gardens and supervising a household of maids and servants. Both Joachim and Anna also devoutly observed the Sabbaths, feast days and laws God had long ago revealed to Moses, but sadly, like Elkanah and Hannah of old, they were childless.

It was the seventh month of the year and the great day of the Lord was approaching. Joachim had prospered that year and was preparing his offerings of atonement. Each year he made two offerings, one from his surplus for all people and a second for himself and his household, to atone for sin and receive forgiveness from the Lord their God. This year his excess surpassed all of the past, so before the tenth day of the month, planning to be first to make his offering, both he and his servants gathered the goats and sheep and drove them up to the city of Jerusalem, but as he approached the gate of the Temple the high priest Reubel stood in his way and remarked,

“Joachim, this year you come early to make your offerings,”

“Yes, and as you see my offering is as always for all people as well as for myself. The Lord God has truly blessed me this past year.”

“Alas Joachim, whilst your offering is most generous, I cannot allow you to be first.”

“Why is that, what is it that makes this so?”

“You cannot offer your gifts first because you have not conceived a child in Israel.”

“Can I be blamed for that?” He pleaded.

“Maybe, maybe not, but if you have no posterity, the privilege of giving your gift first cannot be yours.”


Joachim was frustrated and pained. Anna was past the age of child bearing, was he to have no posterity, no honour in Israel?

Being the devout man he was, he went up to the synagogue and searched the Holy Scriptures, the Torah and the words of the prophets and of King David himself from whom he was directly descended. He read of Samuel, the child born to Hannah, and also of the plight of Abraham, that God had blessed him and Sarah with a child in their old age. With this comfort, hope stirred in his heart, so without returning home he departed into the wilderness where for forty days and nights he gave himself to fasting and prayer.

“I shall not leave here until the Lord God has answered my petitions,” he determined.

Meanwhile, with Joachim not returning home from the temple, Anna’s heart was heavy.

“Why do I deserve this?” she declared to her hand maiden. “Am I now to be both a widow and childless? Many times have I gone up to the House of the Lord and petitioned for His blessing, for my womb to bear fruit. Now surely all is hopeless.”

Receiving no comfort from her servants, Anna removed her mourning garment, washed her head, clothed herself in her wedding dress and around the ninth hour sought seclusion in her garden. After walking awhile, agitated, she sat down in the shade of a laurel tree to rest and petition the Lord,

“God of my ancestors,” she pleaded, “bless me just as you blessed our mother Sarah and gave her a son, Isaac.”

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before her, gently calling her by name saying,

“Anna, Anna, the Lord God has heard your prayer. You will conceive and give birth and your child will be revered and spoken of among all people in all ages.”

As Anna heard these words she knew them to be true, declaring,

“Thanks be to my God, as the Lord God lives, whether I give birth to either son or daughter, I will bring him as an offering to the Lord to be a servant to him all the days of his life.”

There then appeared two more messengers from on high, declaring,

“Look, your husband Joachim is coming with his flocks, for he too has received the joyful news, for an angel has appeared to him and told him you shall conceive.”

With tears of joy, seeing her husband approaching the gates of their home, she ran out to meet him and wrapped herself around his neck, saying,

“Now I know the Lord has truly blessed me, for I am now no longer a widow and this once childless woman shall conceive in her womb.”


After nine months, as the time to deliver her child drew near, there was much eager anticipation in Anna’s home. Finally, the day arrived when her child was born and though exhausted, immediately she asked the midwife,

“What is it?”

“A girl Anna, a healthy, beautiful baby girl,” she replied, to which Anna declared,

“My heart is full and my soul exalts this day!”

Later, after the traditional time of purification, as she drew her child to her breast she named her,

“Mary, my beautiful daughter sent from heaven, your name shall be Mary.”

When Mary was one year old Joachim made a great feast in celebration, to which the high priest came and blessed her saying,

‘Oh God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be forever.’

In response her mother lifted her up and sang aloud:

‘I will sing a song to the Lord my God, for He has looked upon me, and has taken away the reproach of mine enemies; and the Lord has given the fruit of His righteousness, singular in its kind, and richly endowed before Him. Who will tell the sons of Rubim that Anna gives suck? Hear, hear, you twelve tribes of Israel, that Anna gives suck!’

When Mary was three years old it was time for Joachim and Anna to honour their promise and so they brought her to the Temple. Fearing that perhaps the child would want to turn back they were comforted and reassured for Mary immediately settled in God’s house and in the company of the priests who delighted in her presence.


Rebels Lane

Adventures of the Mind

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