Among many much-beloved stories of Jesus, none enjoys more affection than the stories of Jesus’s birth. At Christmas, Christians throughout the world represent these stories with various images in their homes, churches, front yards, and sometimes in public parks. Although the wonder associated with the birth of Jesus evokes the miracle of the birth of any child, for Christians, Christmas is the celebration of God’s human incarnation—the Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). What is largely ignored is that when the stories in Matthew and Luke are read closely, they not only significantly differ, but also are mutually exclusive.
We have no idea where these infancy narratives came from. Joseph is a main character in Matthew’s account, but he is an unlikely source. Joseph never appears in any story of Jesus’s adult ministry. There is a long-standing tradition that he had already died before Jesus’s public ministry.
It is not altogether impossible that Mary was the source for Luke’s account, but it seems unlikely. She doesn’t appear to have any relationship to Jesus’s ministry in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), although she is part of the post-resurrection community in Acts.1