By The Rev. Katheryn King
Is the Christmas Story Necessary?
That might seem like a silly question. Yet it is not silly at all when we remember that two of the four New Testament gospels do not have stories of Jesus’ birth or infancy. Mark’s simply begins with the ministry of John the Baptist. Then he plunges us into the Kingdom’s appearance with Jesus. On the other hand, John’s gospel omits Jesus’ birth and takes us back behind time, to eternity itself, to the timeless existence of the Word and Son of God, who has always been with God.
Why then do Matthew and Luke include Christmas stories? Is it simply to complete the historical record? There is a lot more than that.
There is nothing wrong with the rosy glow of children’s cheeks at Christmas, their bright eyes reflecting the human joy of carols and gifts. The problem is that Christmas has become associated too often merely with soft sentiment. There is a hard –if not harsh, reality in the stories of Matthew and Luke:
An unmarried mother-to-be, a perplexed father-to-be, the harsh circumstances of Jesus’ birth, a tyrant bent on killing the young baby, and long treks to escape his clutches. All these features remind us of the pain of Christmas. And that is the first reason why these stories had to be included somewhere in the Gospel accounts of the church. They remind us of the reality of the incarnation, of the fact that God became truly a human being in the person of a Jew at a certain time and place. And this baby is destined for a cross!
Matthew sets Jesus within the history of God’s people. He traces Jesus back to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, the man to whom God had made detailed promises. In Matthew’s account we find an emphasis on Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.
In his version of the family tree, Luke traces Jesus back to Adam. He is saying that Jesus does not simply fulfill the hopes of Israel: he belongs as Savior to the whole of humanity. Set in the framework of world history, he stresses that the coming of Jesus is the beginning of the joyful good news of the Gospel of salvation for all people.