Archive for Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why are there different stories of Jesus’ birth?

December 16, 2006


Story's details depend on the audience

The Rev. Ira DeSpain, campus minister, Baker University:

Yes, it's true. Manger scenes we display in yards and homes (including my own) are not described the way we display them. The wise men are in Matthew, along with a star to guide them, but there is no manger or stable mentioned, only a "house" (Matthew 2:11). Luke tells of Jesus' relationship to John the Baptist, of shepherds, and angels singing, but there's no star or wise men.

The explanation lies in the intended audience of the writers. That is, when someone reports an event, the details of the report will depend on what the reporter wants the reader to know. For instance, a report of the recent KU-MU football game will be different in each of the school newspapers, each focusing on what the reporter wants the audience to know.

J. Andrew Overman writes, "Matthew highlights the Jewish origin and identity of Jesus and his followers. In Matthew, Jesus is God's Messiah and interprets God's plan for God's people." Matthew was written for Jewish readers. So Matthew's genealogy of Jesus begins with Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, and tells the story of the wise men to inform his readers that Jesus is the messiah for non-Jews as well.

Luke's audience was Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Luke's genealogy of Jesus goes back to Adam. There is a much fuller story of the family relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. Much more attention is given to Mary and her willingness to serve God. Luke also emphasizes Jesus' compassion toward impoverished people (Mary, shepherds, manger, etc.).

Read both stories to get the complete picture of Jesus' nature and mission. I'll continue to display my manger scenes to remind me of that picture.

Jesus' birth story communicates values

The Rev. Vicki Penner, chaplain, Presbyterian Manor, 1429 Kasold Drive:

There are different stories about Jesus' birth because we really don't know exactly when or where Jesus was born. The writers of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell stories about Jesus' birth to make a literary point about the importance of Jesus.

Matthew was concerned about the Jewish people. He makes the case that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting. He writes about how exactly Jesus was of the house and lineage of David, a requirement of the Messiah.

By focusing on the wise men, Matthew shows how Jesus would challenge the current political leadership even as an infant. In Jesus, Matthew finds a compelling vision for the future of Israel.

Luke, on the other hand, was concerned about the poor and destitute. In his gospel, he writes that God comes to Mary, a simple peasant girl who recognizes that God has a preferential option for the poor. Luke records that poor shepherds are the first to hear about and see the infant Jesus. In Jesus, Luke finds a compelling vision of justice and hope to those on the edge of society.

We learn two things from Matthew and Luke. First, the stories told about Jesus in the Bible are more about communicating values and a vision of social justice than about the actual details of the event. Second, Jesus was a very significant figure whose life and teachings modeled a way of peace and justice that was inspiring to many.

Following Matthew and Luke's example, our concern should be how to tell the story of Jesus' birth in order to inspire a vision for peace and justice in our world today.


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