Have you ever noticed a difference in tempo and mood between the nativity stories in Matthew and Luke? It occurred to me only recently. Matthew is filled with dark, anxious urgency. Most of his narrative happens in the night. Joseph anxiously pondered the immediate question of what to do about Mary’s pregnancy. The wise men’s eagerness to find the new born king set the whole of Herod’s court into a frenzy of worry. Their secretive hurried trip home, Herod’s enraged raid on Bethlehem, Joseph’s rush to get his family out of harms way, and his cautious return a few years later are all wrapped up in a few paragraphs of text breathless with darkness and danger.
Luke is languid. Almost two entire chapters are filled with slow moving action, poetry, songs filling the sky, all the time needed to fulfill the law and the prophets, and irenic blessings with only one gentle note of impending discord. No threats of divorce, no raging king, no fleeing to Egypt, just all things done properly and in order with the perfectly natural return of a new family to their home in Nazareth.
In Matthew no power of darkness, no matter how violent, can prevent God from accomplishing what God purposes. In Luke, no amount of celebratory singing can abolish the trials that are yet to come. Each, in its own way, anticipates the victory of the cross and Resurrection sown in the seeds of the Incarnation.
So here is what I wonder. Pastors know that for more than a few Christmas is a dark and foreboding time to be got through and got over as best one can. Luke simply does not speak to them. I wonder what it would be like to produce a Christmas pageant based entirely on Matthew: a pageant filled with brooding darkness, the music of “Jaws” and the tension of Hitchcock. It would be a pageant of God’s, Gabriel’s and Joseph’s dogged determination to never let the light go out. It would end not with the blessing of Simeon, but with the young adult Jesus preaching the beatitudes.
It would not be a pageant for children, and probably not for a lot of adults either. But it would be a pageant for some who struggle mightily with these days, and who desperately need to hear that God knows, understands, is present and cannot be defeated.