The Real Christmas Story

Read the real Christmas story without all the folklore and Christmas trappings. And see pictures of where the Nativity events took place.

I’m a Christmas person! I love love love the whole nine yards of tinsel, presents, music, trees, and the fa la la-ing! I love love love the Christmas story! But, if we are really telling the true Christmas story it has nothing to do with all the traditional trappings we wrap around it this time of year! So, today let’s unwrap the real story and see it in real-time without all the pretty decorations.

To tell the real Christmas story, we need to go back to first-century occupied Israel…

The images in the story are from my studies in Israel.

God’s Message

God’s message in the Christmas story is… 

I am coming!

Coming to you as a human. I am your kinsman. I will be called Jesus, which means God saves. 

I, God will live with you, close and intimate. You will be able to hear and feel and touch and see me for a little while.

I will love you with an everlasting love, just like I have from the beginning! And then I will sacrifice myself in your place because I want you to be with me forever. I want to share my riches and myself with you forever. I love you more than you can think or know! You are so precious to me, my child!  

Is This The Real Nativity?

Most of us read about the birth of Jesus as a nice, pretty, and sanitized story.

Ah, the shepherds, and sweet Mary and faithful Joseph, and the mean Inn Keeper and the lowly donkey and the shining star and the multitude of girly angels in flowing gowns and halos playing harps and trumpet thingies, and the sweet-smelling hay and the rosy-cheeked blond-haired baby and oh, the beauty and formality of the King’s English version of the story!  

Today I hope to change our  “squeaky clean” version of the Christmas story. Because the truth I have to tell is so much better!

Let’s go back in time to the first century in Israel…


It was a time of terrible occupation. Israel, at the time of Jesus’ birth, was under the rule of the brutal Roman Empire. Let’s go back to the real time when a young Jewish girl lived in a once pioneer village of no more than 35 homes. A speck of a village on the side of a hill occupied by a Roman outpost.

Let’s visit THIS Christmas story…  

Nazareth today
Nazarath today, a far cry from the little outpost town of Mary and Joseph.

First, Jesus was not, in all probability, born on December 25. I’m not going to speculate when, but we can be pretty sure that it was not December 25.   

It’s also a sure bet that there was no snow or evergreens or mistletoe! No bows or fancy decorations. Just the very ordinary and every day in first-century Israel!  

The Real Mary

Mary was a young Jewish girl, some say probably around the age of 15. She was not formally educated but was most likely well taught in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the bible), the Law, and the Prophets by her parents and also by her brothers who would have attended Synagogue.  

She lived in a small home with her extended family. Not a whole lot of privacy there! In those days a family’s animals were often taken into the back of the home at night in a dugout area. There they would sleep and eat from a feeding trough called a manger.

No running water, no toilets, no heat or air conditioning, no Walmart, no electricity, no books or TV or computers or modern-day conveniences. Just living! Basic and cramped and smelly!  

 Site of Mary’s home. Can you see the ceiling full of soot?

Like all young Israeli girls, Mary might have thought about being the mother of the Messiah, the Anointed One who would lead the Jews out of bondage and be the great ruler of Israel and the Savior of the whole world.

Never in Mary’s wildest dreams could she imagine what her life would hold. Her life was meager and common and everyday-first-century-in-a-small-town-on-the-side-of-a-hill-in-Israel!  

One day an angel named Gabriel appeared to her with a message directly from God Himself. Mary had found favor with God.  Can you imagine an angel? Not one of those girly angels! By the way, there is no such thing as a girly angel! Can you imagine an angel appearing to you?  

He said…    “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33

I’m sure this scene had Mary in quite a state!

But in true Godly form, we don’t really get to see her emotions or thoughts!   But God does reveal how she answered the angel…    

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”   Mary, even though she was contractually bound to be married to another villager named Joseph, had not slept around! She and Joseph did not live together or have any intimate contact. They were good Jews and followers of God’s Law. 

In Mary’s day and age, according to God’s word and His law, Mary kept herself pure. In Mary’s time, the penalty for sex before marriage was stoning… stoning to death! Can you see how important sexual purity was (and still is) to God?   

Mary, could not understand how she could ever conceive a child…    

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.  For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:35-37  

I like my English Standard Version translation of verse 37… it says… FOR NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD!

The Bible does not tell us Mary’s feelings, trepidation, fears, or inner thoughts.  Mary’s obedient and succinct answer is recorded for us…  

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” This was a pretty together young lady!

The Real Joseph

We are never told of the details of the reaction of her family or the village to Mary’s pregnancy but we can see a glimpse of her espoused husband, Joseph.

It’s important to know what the word espoused meant in the first-century life of a Jew. There were many parts and steps in a Jewish wedding. It has deep and beautiful meaning. But for now, let’s look at espousal. When a woman and man became espoused, the man and the woman’s father would sign a contract, a covenant and the woman and man were considered espoused, married on paper. They would not have any physical contact until their wedding day. This is a very broad overview of the concept of espousal. Let’s continue on in our real story.

The Bible calls Joseph a righteous man. Meaning one that followed God’s law and was found in right standing with God.

Joseph hears the news of Mary’s pregnancy, and what does he think? He probably thought she had been unfaithful to him and, therefore, had broken a sacred contract.

This must have shaken him to his core!  According to God’s law, Joseph has every right to have her stoned to death. And it would be the right thing for him to do.  In doing so, he would totally vindicate himself. It would let everyone know that he was not the child’s father. It would have let everyone know he had not slept with her before marriage. He was a follower of God’s law.   Stoning would save him from the shame (a very big deal in Joseph’s time and culture) of a pregnant espoused wife!  

Here we get a glimpse of Joseph’s character! Here is what Joseph chose to do…  

Because Joseph, her espoused husband, was faithful to the law and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  

Joseph chose life for Mary and her baby even though he knew the baby was not his.  I’m unsure how quietly you can divorce someone in a small town. But the fact is…


Now the plot thickens, and Gabriel enters the story again…  

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means God with us). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.    

Not only did Joseph choose life for Mary and her unborn baby, but by marrying her, he also took responsibility for Jesus as his son.

Can you imagine being responsible for God’s son!  

The Villagers

To the villagers and the rest of the people of Israel, the marriage of Joseph to Mary was as good as admitting that he was indeed the unborn baby’s father and he, along with Mary, was guilty of fornication. That’s a word we don’t hear often, meaning sex before marriage.  

This probably brought great shame to the couple and great hardship within the community! Mary and Joseph lived real lives, in real history, in hard times!

The Trip To Bethlehem

As the Christmas story progresses, can you imagine how troubled Joseph was when he got the news that he had to travel with his expectant wife to Bethlehem, the town of his ancestral birth, to take part in a census by the Roman government occupying beloved Israel? This baby was about to be born, the one he had charge over! God’s very son!

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. Luke 2:4:5

Can you see Joseph and Mary making the mandatory 10-day trip over craggy mountains and valleys to reach Bethlehem? Mary must have been so uncomfortable and ready to give birth. Was it easier for Mary to walk or to ride a donkey?

The Bible does not say.

But our collective experience can make a good guess.   Can you imagine O Little Town Of Bethlehem, a real town just 8 miles outside of the capital, Jerusalem? First-century Bethlehem is a small town but swelling and teaming with ancestors of David to take part in a decreed census.  

Bethlehem today. Eight miles outside of Jerusalem. 

Mary and Joseph, tired and worn out from their long journey, were probably taken in by a distant relative.  Since it was Joseph’s ancestral home, it only makes sense that one from his line found some sort of lodging for him and Mary. 

The Long Awaited Birth

And there Mary went into labor as the prophets had told centuries before.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them. Luke 2:6-7

In all probability, Mary was taken to the back of a small crowded home where the family kept their animals because there was no other room for them to rest.  

And in that real-life, cramped, common environment, the King of Kings was born. And out of necessity, Jesus, God in human flesh, was laid in an animal-eating trough because it was probably the softest place they had to lay Him?  

Church of the Nativity… under it is the birthplace of EMANUEL!
The spot of Jesus’ birth. You can touch the original rocky floor underneath. This is my sister-in-law, Sue. I was taking the picture. What an emotional and holy time. Every time I see this picture, I cry!

The Shepherds

The story continues…

Israel was an agrarian society. The people lived close to their land and even closer to their animals.

In the fields surrounding Bethlehem, that night, shepherds were watching over their sheep, like they did every night. They were protecting their flock from predators. This was a lowly job.

Can you see the shepherds out in the field? A craggy, ravine-like valley of Bethlehem at night?

And here’s what they saw and heard that night of all nights…

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12

The Great Birth Announcement

And because this news was so great and awesome, and any other superlative there is, a multitude of angels joined in! So great was their number it could not possibly be counted. They praised God for his plan of salvation in utter amazement and joy. This was quite a birth announcement!

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2: 13-14

Shepherds, the lowliest of the low, being visited by a multitude of angels!

These godly messengers proclaim the birth of the Savior of the world. This is the news the nation of Israel had been waiting to hear for centuries! Oh, I’d love to see the shepherd’s real faces when they heard this news!   But I can imagine how they really looked. They were ordinary men doing dirty work.

I can imagine them with dirty fingernails and dusty clothing, worn and tired, yet determined to find the babe. Filled with wonder and awe and probably a great deal of human confusion!

Finding The Babe

When the angels left them and went into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Luke 2: 15-16

Shepherd’s field in the evening in July. 

You know, you just can’t keep good news to yourself. And neither did the shepherds.

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2: 17-18

But dear Mary, at such a young age, had a mother’s heart. There are so many things mothers hold dear in their hearts and keep just for themselves. I love how the Bible uses the words treasured up. Yes, there are so many things concerning our children we treasure up in our hearts. As a mother, this really resonates with me!

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2: 19

The shepherds, being good Jews, would have known the scriptures about the coming Messiah. It was true! They knew just who to thank too!

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:20

Perfect Timing

Yes, this story of all stories is really made more magnificent when we see that God stepped into a broken, dirty, common real world! Can you see God’s love by sending His Son to be born in a time such as this?  In this very place. In this time in history. In this common way!  

It’s important to see the drama and the struggle of the Christmas story! As well as the great and unexpected wonder!

We need to feel the emotions of two people given a choice to make. A very hard choice.

Would they follow God’s will, knowing that following it will most likely reap some very unpleasant consequences from the world around them?   We need to imagine the real-life consequences of following God!

We should also see the Christmas story from the customs of the first century, ancient, orthodox, oriental viewpoint.

We need to smell the manure, hear the animal sounds, and see the sweat and dirt of the story!  

Did you know the three wise men were not present at the Christ child’s birth? They don’t belong in the manger story until almost two years later.  

I’m stunned and in awe of God’s timing and choices!

The Creator of the Universe came to us among common people who were a lot like us, in the most un-kingly way.



Relatable in the time in which He came. He truly wanted to be one of us, live among us.  

Knowing the real, nitty-gritty, raw, and beautiful story of Jesus’ birth makes me love Christmas far above the secular trappings wrapped around this season! Yes, I love everything about Christmas because front and center of it all is the celebration of Jesus! And there is no greater gift than Him!

Happy Birthday, my King! 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. I love your Sunday postings. This was a wonderful description and enjoyed seeing your pictures too.
    Merry Christmas.

    1. That was a beautiful story. Peace to you.
      P.S. I love your new picture!

  2. Oh my goodness! What a wonderful post to read as I woke up on the Sunday before Christmas. The real story-the real reason for this reason. Blessings to you and your family this holiday season.

  3. Thank you Yvonne for bringing the Christmas story to life and reminding us of its true meaning! From the time our grand children were old enough to read, on Christmas Day, we have passed the Bible as each one read aloud a portion the story. We will do it again this year, but I will also share your blog and the realities of God’s sacrifice! It is so easy to forget how it changed EVERYTHING, and has the power to change us and everything in our lives IF we bow down to the King of Kings today!!

  4. I really enjoy your Sunday posts. Today’s especially. Thank you
    Merry Christmas

  5. Truly enjoyed your verse. Thank you for reminding us of the true mean of the season. Thank you!

  6. That was beautiful. thankyou for that, I really enjoyed it

  7. Lynn Mosher says:

    Thank you for this. Always love studying God’s Word. If you love the ESV of verse 37, and I do, too, you will love the literal Greek, which says, “Because not will be impossible with God every word.” Isn’t that awesome? I love that. Thought you might enjoy it as well. May you and the family enjoy a very blessed Christmas. ?

  8. You certainly make my Sunday morning meditations much better!

  9. Timerey Bush says:

    Such a wonderful post to read on this third Sunday of Advent. Asking God to bless you and yours with a wonderful year of blessed days filled with peace and health.

    Merry Christmas ?

  10. thank you Yvonne for this account of the nativity story in its context which is awesome as you describe. He is coming!

  11. Thank you for this post. Just exactly what I needed to read today. Blessings and Merry Christmas.

  12. Gail Bobel says:

    I could almost smell the manure. Thank you for the descriptive version of the circumstances of His birth. I don’t believe the Bible states that there were three Magi. People get confused because it lists three gifts, ( gold, frankincense, and myrrh) Gold for his kingship, frankincense for the deity of Jesus, and myrrh for death and mourning, Every nativity shows three kings and the carol “We Three Kings” has caused confusion. I really enjoy your blog, especially your Sunday ones.

  13. A raw yet beautiful description of the birth of Jesus. Your photos added another dimension. Have a blessed Christmas and New Year!

  14. Thank you for sharing the story of Christ’s birth. I also enjoyed seeing the pictures. A true gift!

  15. Sharon Payne Hardy says:

    For anyone who is interested, Why the Nativity is showing on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It is also a great story of Christmas.

  16. Suze Pfaffinger says:

    Beautifully told thank you Yvonne!

  17. Janice Gerasole says:

    I can’t imagine the tough time that Mary and Joseph had:( they raise a king 👑 Jesus that was the greatest gift of all hallelujah.. it’s very sad that families don’t teach their children about Jesus:( the church doors are closing 😔 Jesus didn’t ask those doors to be closed we closed them!! I Pray for peace and for all the children to come to believe in him cuz Christmas is the greatest story ever told of Jesus ❤️ in the name of Jesus Christ he is my savior 🙏 Merry Christmas 🎄 to you and your family a blessed one.. Amen 🙏

  18. Lisa Pobst says:

    How beautiful…Christmas ✝️ Blessings to you and your family from myself and my family.

  19. Thank you Yvonne, The Greatest Story Ever Told!

  20. Karen Cooley Jennings says:

    This was absolutely beautiful. Thank you for reminding us all of the true meaning of Christmas. May you and yours have a blessed holiday.

  21. Love this, thank you Yvonne!

  22. Kim Hanson says:

    Beautifully written and enjoyed Yvonne!!
    The Prince of Peace was born and lives with us TODAY!
    💚🎀Merry Christmas to you & your family🎀💚

  23. Beautiful retelling of the Christmas Story!

  24. Beautiful! Wishing you & your family a Blessed Christmas season!❤️

  25. I felt as tho I were there with you and Sue. Thank you for sharing your talents with us and for your inspirational Sunday blogs. Christmas blessings to you, Yvonne, and to your family.

  26. Gloria Fowler says:

    Beautifully written!!!!!! My prayer is that more people will seek the true meaning of this Holy Time. Bless You!

  27. Thank you so much for this. How lovely you are to share the real reason for this most beautiful time of the year. I have been following you for years now and always enjoy your content, but felt compelled today to show my appreciation. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

    1. Hi Laurie I’m so glad you cmmented!Thank you, it’s wonderful to kmw SthoneGable is helping. Merry Christmas!

  28. Shelly Mathes says:

    Thank you so much for this message. You did a beautiful job explaining all of this, I truly enjoyed this story. Happy holidays to you and your family.

  29. Thank you for this! Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  30. Beautiful. Thank you so much. Merry Christmas 🎄.

  31. jean C smith says:

    I enjoyed reading your post today. I thank you for sharing your Sunday post with us and the knowledge you have since you studied in Israel and know the true facts of Our Savior, Jesus Christ’s birth! We cannot imagine what and how Mary and Joseph felt and thought hearing Gabriel speak to her and another angel speaking to Joseph. Thank you for a wonderful year of great blogging you have shared with us and I wish you and your family a blessed Christmas week and Christmas Day!!

    1. How totally sweet of you Jean! Thank you so much. I love blogging and helping women. God bless you and Merry Christmas.

  32. Do you have a printable version of this? It is something I would like to read out loud to my family on Christmas day. We usually read the Christmas story from Luke before we open presents but I’d like to read this instead this year:)

    1. Sorry, I don’t. If you have a smart phone you can read it from there. Merry Christmas, Eva!

  33. I’ll want to read this to my Grandson. Thank you for making it available.
    Happy and Blessed Christmas to you as well.

  34. Beautifully said. Thank you!

  35. Charles Segrest says:

    I heard this read tonight at Bible study. It was a wonderful trip back to the start. Thank you for the impression and real purpose of the meaning no matter the calendar date

  36. Dwain Schlabach says:

    Dear whoever you are, I just stumbled across and was moved by this famous story.
    Can you send it to me in a forward able way?
    I want to share it.♥️♥️
    Thank you.
    Thank Jesus 🙏

    1. Dwain you can copy and paste this post and print it. It’s wonderful to share God’s true word and THE WORD. God bless you and Merry Christmas.