Meaning of Christmas
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Christmas in the Bible
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Birth of Jesus
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The Birth of Jesus Christ

This page is for adults or older children who want to learn more about the birth of Jesus Christ. (Younger children will like our Baby Jesus page instead.)

God's promises are in the Bible. For many many years before Jesus was born, God promised to send a Savior to save us from our sins. You can read more about the Old Testament prophecies of the birth of Jesus on our Christmas in the Bible page.

The Christmas story as it is usually told includes events which occurred over a period of at least 10 months, and maybe as much as 2 years. If you include the escape to Egypt then add a few more years. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and his early days are presented below in chronological order. To better understand what happened we start the story a few months before Jesus was conceived. (Unless otherwise noted the New International Version of the Bible is used on this page.)

Conception of John the Baptist

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years. Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak. When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. "The Lord has done this for me," she said. "In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people." (Luke 1:5-25)

1) This passage is
often not included in the story of the birth of Jesus. But if we want to determine the approximate time of year that Jesus was born, then the above passage is important.
2) John the Baptist's father, Zechariah was from the priestly division of Abijah. The schedule which governed the order of priestly service in Jerusalem was delineated in the Old Testament. Relevant passages include 1 Chronicles 24; 2 Chronicles 23:8, 1 Chronicles 9:25; Deuteronomy 16:16. From this we can deduce that the division of Abijah would have been working in the temple in Jerusalem in the second week of the month of Sivan of the Jewish lunar calendar. It appears from the text that the conception took place soon after Zechariah's return home from Jerusalem. So John the Baptist was conceived probably the middle of the month of Sivan (late May - early June on our calendar). If you want to think further on this subject, an in-depth discussion can be found here.
Notice these two sentences. "When his time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant." In truth we don't know what amount of time passed between "service was completed" and "returned home". Nor do we know exactly how much time passed between "returned home" and "became pregnant". It seems like it would have been a matter of days. But it is not precisely stated. Since our further estimations as to the time of the birth of Jesus all rest on the assumption that Elizabeth became pregnant within a few days or weeks after Zechariah completed his time of service, we cannot speak with absolute surety regarding the timing of the birth of Jesus. We can only say what seems to be true, based on what we know from the text.

An angel tells Mary about Jesus

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?" The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon 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 barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God." "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Angel tells Mary about Baby Jesus

1) The conception and birth of Jesus was a supernatural event. He was born of a virgin. Maybe your logic and reasoning and knowledge of human behavior are trying to make the Bible leave some doubt about Mary's virginity. But there is no doubt in the passage. If you believe the first verse in the Bible, (which says "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,") then it's not hard to believe that the same God can cause conception in a virgin.
2) The faith of Mary is shocking. When she heard what the angel said, certainly she instantly knew the ridicule she would receive. And she must have thought that Joseph would dump her. But there is no sign of hesitation, fear, or doubt on her part. It affects me like "Boom!" when she just instantly responds, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." Her faith definitely shames me. If I had been in her shoes, I probably would have been asking doubting questions of the angel.
3) Concerning the time of year when this conception took place, the "sixth month" is probably not the sixth month of the calendar that was in use by the Jews then. Instead it was the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy. This can be understood by looking at the phrase "
she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month." And also by Luke 1:24 which says, "After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion." Then two verses later it says "in the six month..." So, it seems that Jesus was conceived in the month of Kislev (November-December). From that we can add 40 weeks to approximate the time of year of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Mary visits Elizabeth

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah's home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!" And Mary said: "My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers." Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home. (Luke 1:39-56)

1) This passage is
often not included in the story of the birth of Jesus. If we want chronological order, then we need to include it.
The text says that Mary hurried to go to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. So she left almost immediately. This trip was not about hiding from shame. Her pregnant state would not have been visible yet. No, this was a spiritual journey. These were two really spiritual women. As soon as Mary got near Elizabeth, John jumped in Elizabeth's womb, and Elizabeth received a special revelation from the Holy Spirit, telling her that Mary was carrying the Savior. Wow!
3) It appears that Mary stayed until John the Baptist was born. She wanted to witness with her own eyes the one who would "make ready a people prepared for the Lord." John the Baptist would be the one who would prepare the hearts of the people for the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything was falling into place for the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Joseph & Mary get married

An angel tells Joseph about Jesus

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 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 be with child and will 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 had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25)

1) Okay, now Joseph is going to put us to shame also, with what a exemplary person he is. Most men would have told everybody what a low-life Mary was for getting pregnant while she was off at Elizabeth's. But Joseph had made up his mind to do everything he could not to disgrace her.
2) But then he gets the shocking news like Mary did. "What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." Whoa, he's just been told that his wife-to-be is carrying God's child! And what does he do? When he woke up he simply did what the angel told him that God said he should do. Unquestioning obedience in the face of the impossible. And we'll continue to see this as a habit from this guy. When God tells Joseph something, Joseph does not doubt, hesitate or waver, he just immediately obeys - no questions asked. It's no wonder that Joseph was chosen to be the guardian and helper during the events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

Jesus is born 

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. 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. 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 room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)

Baby Jesus is born

1) If he was conceived in the month of Kislev as discussed above, that puts the birth of Jesus Christ in the month of Tishri (September-October).
2) In the month of Tishri was the Feast of Tabernacles. It lasted for 8 days. (Lev 23:33-36) And every male from all over Israel was supposed to come to Jerusalem for it. (Deut 16:16) Bethlehem was like a suburb of Jerusalem, only a few miles away. So it would have been packed with people staying there. Add that amount to the displaced people from the census and it's no wonder that the place was packed with people. As a side note about the trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem, there is no mention of a donkey used in the trip. That's the first of many ways we're going to make you wonder how a certain version of the birth of Jesus got so cemented in your mind. So, no donkey for Mary to ride. Maybe there was one. Maybe there wasn't.
3) The Greek word (kataluma) that is usually translated as "inn" in English is probably not properly translated. The only other situation that it is used is in the New Testament it was translated "guest room" or "upper room" in describing the place where the Last Supper took place. So it seems like all of the Christmas plays with grumpy innkeepers saying "No room" may have misinformed us. Notice that there is no mention of an innkeeper in the Bible. Joseph's extended family was right there in Bethlehem as we were plainly told. And family bonds were very important in that society. So it is probable that Joseph and Mary would stay in the guest room of a relative of Joseph. 
4) Also, notice that there is no mention of a stable. What!? No stable!? Right. No stable is mentioned. And no animals are mentioned either. And no hay. A manger is mentioned. A manger is an animal's feeding trough. So that might lead one to assume it was in a stable, and that animals were present. Well, whatever shelter they stayed in probably was something that could be used like a stable, but was not one of the free-standing stables devoted to taking care of several animals like our barns would be or the stables on old Western movies where people kept their horses while traveling.
5) What has been found archaelogically in that area of the world is stone mangers in the lower floors of homes. Apparently they would sometimes keep animals in a lower room where there was a manger made out of stone. These rooms were often almost like caves instead of what we would think of as a room. (In today's terms think of a basement/garage combo that some people have in their homes. It's not exactly inside and not exactly outside. You might bring a pet or an injured or pregnant animal in there to be warm.) Sometimes the manger was free-standing and sometimes built into a wall. Then they could also use that room as a guest-room for people to sleep when necessary. Jesus' type of crib picture 1, picture 2, picture 3. However, it is possible that if the family that they were staying with was rich (unlikely), then there could have been a free-standing building for their animals. Young's Literal Translation of the Bible translates Luke 2:7 as "she brought forth her son -- the first-born, and wrapped him up, and laid him down in the manger, because there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber". What we have is Jesus being born in a house that was apparently packed with people. Maybe there was a guest room upstairs that was so full that they ended up down below where the animals were.  Remember, it says there was "no room." But it seems unlikely that a woman in labor would be treated like that. It seems more likely that they and several others were jammed into the only thing like a guest room that these people had. So there was no bed for Jesus. The manger was a good place to put him so he would be up off the floor, and couldn't roll and fall out. It was a pretty good baby crib really.
6) They gathered up some cloths and swaddled him with them. Babies loved to be swaddled. It keeps them warm and calm. The climate in the area of Jerusalem and Bethlehem is fairly warm anyway. Swaddling was and is the normal thing to do with babies in many parts of the world even today.
7) Many others have written on the question of what year the birth of Jesus took place. The question is too big to be addressed on this page. Ernest L. Martin in The Star That Astonished the World (Second Edition; Portland, Oregon: ASK Publications, 1996) ISBN 0-94-5657-87-0 does a good job of showing that Herod the Great died around 1 B.C. which would put the birth of Jesus in maybe 2 or 3 B.C. However, there is much dispute about this, especially when combined with the phrase "
This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria". Hundreds of people have studied this in-depth and it still continues to be argued. Sorry, we can't take on this question here. But we should be on really solid ground by assuming that the birth of Jesus occurred somewhere between 10 B.C. and 10 A.D.

Shepherds visit Jesus

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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone 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. 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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 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 2:8-20)

Shepherds visit Baby Jesus

1) The shepherds were probably there within a day, most likely the same day, and maybe within an hour or two of the birth of Jesus. It's interesting to think about their being chosen of all the peoples of the earth to witness the throng of angels singing, and then get to see the Savior.
2) Where the NIV translation says "they spread the word" it makes it seem that the shepherds went all around Bethlehem telling people. But other translations do not render it like that. For example, the more literal ESV says "And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child." So they may have just talked to people in or near the place where Jesus was born, rather than intentionally walking around town telling people like door-to-door evangelists. And Mary just kept quiet about it. She did not seem to want to draw much attention.

Jesus and Mary presented
at the temple in Jerusalem

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."


There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. (Luke 2:21-39)

1) This part is almost always left out of the story of the birth of Jesus. But if we want chronological order then we include it. These events occurred before the visit of the Magi. And it helps us to understand some things about the timing of the visit of the Magi and the holy family's escape to Egypt.
2) Their purpose in going to the temple was two-fold. The first was to offer sacrifices for Mary. Lev 12:1-4 follows. The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over." So Joseph and Mary would have been at the temple at least 41 days after the birth of Jesus. 8 days + 33 days = 41. She would probably do it on the first day possible.
3) We can tell that Joseph and Mary were really poor, because they were bringing doves or pigeons. We also see that Mary was not sinless, since she had to make a sin offering like every other woman in that situation. Lev 12:6-8 follows. "When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean. "
4) The second purpose was to present Jesus for consecration. Every Israelite was to consecrate the first-born to the Lord, according to Exodus 13:2 and Numbers 18:14-15.
5) Notice the last sentence in the passage says, "When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth." It would seem that they probably would have been staying in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, for the six weeks of ceremonial impurity for Mary, and then made the short trip into Jerusalem. The text appears to say that as soon as they finished these important spiritual steps in Jerusalem they started the long journey to Nazareth in Galilee where they had come from.

Magi visit Jesus

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:1-12)

Magi visit Baby Jesus

The text does not give the names of the Magi, nor even the number. The Magi were not present the night of the birth of Jesus. And they did not see him in the first six weeks. Whenever wherever however many there were we don't know with absolute certainty. We do know that the Magi found Jesus and worshipped him. They gave him extravagant gifts. There is much more to say about the Magi, as well as the Christmas star. Please visit our separate page devoted to the Christmas star and the Magi.

Jesus' family escapes to Egypt

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead." So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:12-23)

Baby Jesus escapes to Egypt

1) Joseph and family went to Egypt almost immediately after the Magi left. We see once again that Joseph did not mess around when it came to obeying God. Whatever God told him to do, he did it immediately and unquestioningly.
2)  The gifts from the Magi would have provided enough money for safe passage and stay in Egypt for as long as was necessary.
3) After Herod died, it seems like Joseph was thinking to settle in Judea, maybe Bethlehem where his family was, or maybe Jerusalem. But he received specific word from the Lord not to do that. Jesus grew up in Nazareth in the region of Galilee
, becoming strong and wise. (Luke 2:40,52)
4) We are sorry that we really
fouled up the whole Christmas story as usually told. As we looked carefully at it, we've got no donkey for Mary to ride on to Bethlehem, no inn, no rude innkeeper, no wandering from place to place trying to find a place to stay frantically at the last minute with Mary in the midst of labor, no stable, no animals, no wooden manger, no Magi visiting Bethlehem anywhere near the time of the birth of Jesus. And if you read Christmas star and the Magi you see that we are leaning toward the idea that the Magi found Jesus in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem. 
5) N
othing can thwart the plans of God. Step by step Jesus moved closer and closer to the final destiny for which He was supernaturally conceived in the womb of a virgin — to die on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of all who would believe in Him. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "We have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world." (I John 4:14)

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