I’ve had a Muslim roommate when I was in the university. I’m always impressed by how much more some people outside of the faith know more about our faith than those who claim to be evangelicals. We had many meaningful conversations mainly because he knew the Christian scripture much more than most of my evangelical friends at the time. There are times of the year that preachers can make use of to educate their congregation by busting up a few myths. I’ve written on this in my previous posts in my other blog, but I think it bears repeating some highlighted points here.
Christmas is one holiday where myths run amok about exactly what the holiday is about. Besides getting out the traditional and sometimes cliché message of Christmas, preachers can do well to bust up a few myths so that their congregations can be better informed about the birth of Jesus.
The biggest myth I suggest is the blending of all the elements of Matthew and Luke birth narratives into a single story. The real birth narrative in Matthew is in Matthew 1.18-25. It is quite condensed with a focus not so much on the birthing details but the prophecy that precedes the birth. Most Christmas stories mix the visit by the people from the east in Matthew 2 with the Christmas story.
We may notice that the alleged genocide by Herod covered children around two and under (Matthew 2.16). What happened in Matthew 2 is that it took a while for the eastern visitors to come see the baby Jesus after the birth. It did not happen straight away at birth. Herod’s killing was timed to the extended period of time between the birth and the visit. It is therefore a mistake to blend the visit with the Christmas story. The Western Church traditionally commemorates Matthew 2 by the day of Epiphany which happens to be January 6, 2014. As much as many evangelicals decry the Roman Catholic’s worship of tradition, at the very least the Catholics got the details right from its tradition by separating Christmas and Epiphany. In this case, it is the popular Protestant imagination, fueled by commercialized nativity scenes, that is at fault.
Now, in summary, in order to get the order right in Matthew and Luke, Matthew 1.18-25 happened first. At the same time, Luke 1 fills in more details. The real birth detail can be found in Luke 2. Then, Matthew 2 happened.