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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