The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Emmanuel, God is with us

Seeking the jesus of history can deepen our relationship with the Christ of faith

No matter how we set up our manger scenes at Christmas, we read two very different birth stories in the Gospels. In Matthew's version, Joseph is the prominent character. The Magi, or wise men, come seeking Jesus sometime within the first two years of his birth. And because Herod decrees that all the male children 2 years and younger be killed, Joseph flees with his young family to Egypt. Matthew seems to be making a connection between Jesus and Moses: Both had their lives threatened, and both came “out of Egypt.”

In Luke's account, Mary is the main character. The child is born and laid in a manger. Shepherds come to worship the newborn king. Luke is concerned about setting Jesus' birth story within a cosmic, world-history context. He has Jesus immediately identified with the lowly of society, the shepherds.

But the importance of these stories doesn't depend on whether there were wise men or shepherds, or whether the child was laid in a manger or not. It's possible that these narrative details have little basis in historical fact. Neither narrative can claim to be an eyewitness account.

The importance of these stories, rather, is that they both claim this child, Jesus, is the Savior, the Messiah, Emmanuel — God with us.

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