The Baptist Standard reports few Americans have the Christmas story down cold.
The Lifeway Research study sourced in the article found:
Slightly more than 1 in 5 Americans (22 percent) say they accurately could tell the Christmas story found in the Bible from memory. A plurality of U.S. adults (31 percent) say they could tell the story but may miss some details or get others wrong. Another quarter (25 percent) could only give a quick overview and 17 percent say they couldn’t tell any of it.
I guess this is news, insofar as the Christian community should know we have a story to tell that others are unfamiliar with. We shouldn’t assume everyone knows how the gospel writers recorded this event. And, within the Christian community, we don’t know it as well as we ought, and that’s a reality that needs to be faced. Therefore, we need to tell this story first to ourselves, so that when we tell it to those outside the community of the faith, we tell it right.
You may already know the Christmas story. The details are recorded in two of the four gospels: Matthew and Luke. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell us the story of Jesus’ life. Only two of these writers focus explicitly on the events of Jesus’ birth.
These accounts are not identical. That’s important to note.
Rather than harmonizing the two and telling the story as a seamless whole, I think it is more faithful to the story to be clear concerning which details come from which account, and to understand why the authors present the story of Jesus’ birth as they do.
Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience living in the Gentile world, and includes details in his gospel to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s hope for a Messiah.
Luke wrote for a Gentile audience who would have been familiar with the stories of the Old Testament, but had different concerns, such as how Israel’s Messiah could also be the Lord of all the world.
Matthew’s account tells us of Joseph’s inner conflict following the discovery of Mary’s pregnancy, the appearing of a star, and the journey of wise men who came to visit Jesus from the East, presenting him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Luke’s account includes the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, Caesar’s census, Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, an inn with no vacancy, shepherds, the angels’ announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds tending their flocks in the fields, and the first visitors to see Jesus in the manger.
The Christmas story, for Christian people, is one of those stories that is important enough for us to learn and to be able to tell it with ease. If you have a Bible on your shelf, however, you can pull it down, crack it open, and read an account. Many people can search on their phone or use an app even if there isn’t a Bible handy. Then, you can talk about what it means.
Christians believe that on the very first Christmas God entered history in Jesus of Nazareth. This event was a continuation of God’s involvement in history and the marking of a significant new chapter.
God appeared to us as a human being.
Tiny. Vulnerable. A gift.
This is the miracle of the incarnation. God brought to fulfillment the promises regarding the Messiah, a Savior, a King who would redeem humankind from sin.
The world has never been the same.
The wise men came in reverence and the shepherds came with wonderment and awe.
Mary treasured these things in her heart.
We ponder them still.
We tell of them.
We should tell them well, and with confidence.