And the understanding that we are dealing with a multi-voice library rather than a single-voice book is especially helpful for the Christmas story.
Here’s what the four Gospel writers — because within the library there is a “biography” section & that section devotes four books to a single subject, Jesus — tell us about the birth of Christ:
Matthew — Matthew begins with a trip through Jesus’ family graveyard, specializes in dream communication between heavenly messengers and the central characters in the story, and tells us the stories of the magi and the holy family’s escape to and return from Egypt — stories that very likely took place two years or so after the O Holy Night. Check Matthew 1:1 – 2:15.
Mark — As the shortest gospel, Mark gives us nothing about the birth of Jesus. Nothing. Mark is in such a hurry to tell his story — the dominant word or phrase of the book’s first eight chapters is “immediately” or “at once” — that he dispenses with any birth narrative and moves right to Jesus’ adult ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and provoking. Check Mark 1-2.
Luke — Luke’s is the most detailed of the Christmas stories, but of course that makes sense as the good doctor’s expressed purpose is to provide “an orderly account” of Jesus’ life. From Luke, we learn of Zechariah & Elizabeth, Mary’s conversation with Gabriel, the Romans census, the trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, the birth in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and shepherds in their fields at night. Whew! Safe to say that no Luke, no Christmas. Check out Luke 1:1 – 2:40.
John — John gives us Christmas from outer space. He locates the origin of Jesus not in a virgin’s womb nor in a manger, but in the dawn of creation and as the king of the cosmos. The result is breathtaking, especially the climactic moment of John 1:14: “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Read the whole of John 1:1-14 here.