Analysis of the two Christmas stories in the New Testament | Daniel J Harrington, S.J.

Posted: December 23, 2012 in Christianity, Religion
Tags: , , , , ,

“The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew 12 and Luke 12. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.

In the familiar version of the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Because there was no room in the inn, the baby Jesus is born in a stable and placed in a manger. His humble birth is celebrated by choirs of angels and shepherds, and he is given precious gifts by the mysterious Magi. This version freely blends material from the two biblical accounts. It has become enshrined in Christmas carols and stable scenes as well as the liturgical cycle of readings during the Christmas season.

Giotto’s “Nativity, Birth of Jesus” from Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy c. 1304-1306.

Giotto’s “Nativity, Birth of Jesus” from Scrovegni (Arena) Chapel, Padua, Italy c. 1304-1306.

My purpose here is not to criticize blending the two Christmas stories or to debate the historicity of the events they describe. What I do want to show is that by harmonizing the two stories we may be missing points that were especially important for Matthew and Luke, respectively. I want also to suggest that appreciating each biblical account separately might open up new perspectives on the infancy narratives for people today.”

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☞ Fr Harrington argues that the two Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke need not always be blended together, but there are virtues in looking at them separately. By doing this, the contexts in which they were written would be better appreciated, and there would also be a better understanding of the respective writer’s intentions. What this article emphasises is the importance of the appropriate contexts in reading religious narratives.

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