"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife being great with child. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their sheep by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."

The story of the first Christmas is old as the hills. It has changed but little since recorded in the Gospel according to St. Luke, many years after the birth and crucifixion of Jesus. No one really knows, except as an article of faith, how much of the story is true and how much imagined. This is something for scholars and men of the cloth, not newspapermen, to determine.

What we can say with certainty is that what Christianity teaches (as opposed to what sometimes is practiced) is indeed a prayer for peace and good will toward men. All men.

Christian tolerance of other religions or beliefs is not always rewarded in kind, however. In the world in which we live, persecution of Christians is widespread. This is particularly so in Egypt, where the ancient Coptic sect has been brutalized by the Muslim Brotherhood, its churches put to the torch, its people sent fleeing for their lives.

Such persecution, to one degree or another, is common throughout much of Muslim North Africa and the Middle East. For whatever reason, the U.S. government, to its shame, has chosen to all but ignore this insult to simple humanity.

Here at home, there are those who say that non-believers have declared their own "war" against the Christian faith and the traditional observance of Christmas. We hesitate to call it war, but sympathize with those angered by a most intolerant attack against Christian symbols, Christian songs and Christian stories in the public square. The American people, overwhelmingly, are Christian. They also have freedom of religion.

Merry Christmas, if you will. If not, Happy Holidays.

And here's to peace on earth and good will toward all men.