The following is the first chapter of The Life of our Lord written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) for his children from 1846 to 1849. In this charming, simple retelling of the life of Jesus Christ, adapted from the Gospel of St. Luke, Dickens hoped to teach his young children about religion and faith. Since he wrote it exclusively for his children, Dickens refused to allow publication (which leads to yet another marvelous story!)
My Dear Children,
I am very anxious that you should know something about the History of Jesus Christ. For everybody ought to know about Him. No one ever lived who was so good, so kind, so gentle, and so sorry for all people who did wrong, or were in any way ill or miserable, as He was. And as He is now in Heaven, where we hope to go, and all to meet each other after we are dead, and there be happy always together, you can never think what a good place Heaven is, without knowing who He was and what He did.
He was born, a long long time ago – nearly two thousand years ago – at a place called Bethlehem. His father and mother lived in a city called Nazareth, but they were forced by business to travel to Bethlehem. His father’s name was Joseph, and His mother’s name was Mary. And the town being very full of people, also brought there by business, there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the Inn or in any house; so they went into a stable to lodge, and in this stable Jesus Christ was born. There was no cradle or anything of that kind there, so Mary laid her pretty little boy in what is no called the manger, which is the place the horses eat out of. And there He fell asleep.
While He was asleep, some shepherds who were watching sheep in the fields, saw an Angel from God, all light and beautiful, come moving over the grass towards them. At first they were afraid and fell down and hid their faces. But it said, “There is a child born to-day in the city of Bethlehem near here, who will grow up to be so good that God will love Him as His own Son; and He will teach men to love one another, and not to quarrel and hurt one another, and His name will be Jesus Christ; and people will up that name in their prayers, because they will know God loves it, and will know that they should love it too.” And then the Angel told the shepherds to go to that stable, and look at that little child in the manger. Which they did; and they kneeled down by it in its sleep, and said, “God bless this child!”
Now the great place of all that country was Jerusalem – just as London is the great place in England – and at Jerusalem the King lived, whose name was King Herod. Some wise men came one day, from a country a long way off in the East, and said to the King, “We have seen a star in the sky, which teaches us to know that a child is born in Bethlehem, who will live to be a man that all people will love.” When King Herod heard this, he was jealous, for he was a wicked man. But he pretended not to be, and said to the wise men, “Whereabouts is this child?” And the wise men said, “We don’t know. But we think the star will show us; for the star has been moving on before us, all the way here, and is now standing still in the sky.” Then Herod asked them to see if the star would show them where the child lived, and ordered them, if they found the child, to come back to him. So they went out, and the star went on, over their heads a little way before them, until it stopped over the house where the child was. This was very wonderful, but God ordered it to be so.
When the star stopped, the wise men went in, and saw the child with Mary His mother. They loved Him very much, and gave Him some presents. Then they went away. But they did not go back to King Herod; for they thought he was jealous, though he had not said so. So they went away, by night, back into their own country. And an Angel came, and told Joseph and Mary to take the child into a country called Egypt, or Herod would kill Him. So they escaped, too, in the night – the father, the mother, and the child – and arrived there, safely.
But when this cruel Herod found that the wise men did not come back to him, and that he could not, therefore, find out where this child, Jesus Christ, lived, he called his soldiers and captains to him, and told them to go and kill all the children in his dominions that were not more than two years old. The wicked men did so. The mothers of the children ran up and down the streets with them in their arms, trying to save them, and hide them in caves and cellars, but it was of no use. The soldiers with their swords killed all the children they could find. This dreadful murder was called the Murder of the Innocents, because the little children were so innocent.
King Herod hoped that Jesus Christ was one of them. But He was not, as you know, for He had escaped safely into Egypt. And He lived there, with His father and mother, until bad King Herod died.