The Christmas Story: Who's Right?

by Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher

The Christmas Story? Who’s right? Matthew? Luke?

So who’s right? Matthew or Luke.

Wait. What? Who’s right? What are we talking about?

The Christmas story, of course. Jesus, born in a manger, and all that. The only two gospels in the Bible to mention it are Matthew and Luke. So which one is right?

Aren’t they both?

Well, they actually don’t agree on all the details. It’s true. Even though we try to squish them into one neat story, they don’t squish that well.

You see, Matthew offers very few details. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, with very little fanfare, and then King Herod tries to trick the wise men (who we assume there are three of because they bring three gifts, but the Bible never numbers them) into helping with his planned genocide of every child under the age of two. The genocide part is, mercifully, left out of most Christmas pageants.

As for Luke, he’s more of a storyteller. There’s a census, Mary and Joseph travel to register, but there’s no room for them in the inn. Shepherds come to see. Angels sing of the glory of God. But there are no wise men. And there are no adoring animals in the stable, like our nativity scenes often show.

And then, according to Luke, Jesus and his family head to the temple for the circumcision and naming, as was Jewish custom. There’s no fleeing to Egypt to escape Herod’s wrath.

So which one is right? Matthew or Luke?

Well . . . . I say they both are. For just as two people might see the same event and describe it in their own way, that’s what we have with Matthew and Luke. Each author tells the story in their own way, highlighting the parts they felt were most important to them and their intended audience—even if their details don’t quite line up.

So both are true, in that they both contain truth. And that truth is that God loves us enough to become one of us. And that means something different to us all. And so we have different stories that might help us understand that.

So this Christmas season, try entering into the story from whatever place find yourself. Then watch, look, and listen: there’s truth to be found.

Not to mention, a whole lot of hope, peace, joy, and love which we’d do well to share with the world.

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher
Written by:

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey M. Gallagher is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Senior Pastor of the United Congregational Church of Tolland, and author of the book Wilderness Blessings: How Down Syndrome Reconstructed Our Life and Faith. An avid runner, New England sports fan, and Tolland Soccer Club coach, Jeff, his wife Kristen, and sons Noah and Jacob have been residents of Tolland for just over a year.