The Two Accounts
of the Nativity
It is well known that two parents can have widely differing memories of their children and their childhood. Scripture contains two very different accounts of the amazing events that accompanied the arrival of the Lord Jesus into this world. Both their geography and their chronology appear to differ.
Matthew's account gives the events from the viewpoint of Joseph, Luke's account from the viewpoint of Mary. Both must have been reported to the gospel writers three or four decades later.
Both parents had angelic revelations of the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit and were told the sex and name of the child to be born to Mary. Joseph married Mary as he had been told, and as obedient citizens they went to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. But from there the reports diverge.
Mary did not tell about the visit of the Magi and its tragic consequences. She appears to recall their return to Nazareth as occurring some six weeks after the birth of Jesus, i.e. shortly after His presentation in the Temple and their inspiring meeting with Simeon and Anna. Joseph, on the other hand, remembered and reported most clearly the arrival of the magi at a house, evidently in Bethlehem, and a seies of four dreams, three of them his, regarding their escape from Herod and becoming refugees in Egypt until Herod's death.
A simple explanation of the difference, that does not violate Luke's account, could well be that Mary, in her attention to the welfare of the Baby and all that followed in the next thirty years, had forgotten all the trauma that involved them in long journeys. It was Joseph who took full responsibility for all the problems of travel and accommodation of mother and child. Mary simply recalled that when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. She did not however say 'straightway'. Memory has a happy knack of overlooking traumatic events in our lives.
But Mary, endued and overshadowed by God's Spirit may have made a deliberate choice to blot out those months of tragedy from her mind, meditating on 'whatsoever things are lovely and of good report'. Her life was totally taken up with the care of her unique Son, pondering in her heart all that He showed her of the love of his Father. Gabriel's extensive conversation with her could of course never be forgotten. Her thrilling three months with Elizabeth, at opposite ends of their pregnancies, the excitement of the shepherds at the angelic message, would often fill her heart with joy.
It was Joseph who was left to recall his care of his wife and her holy child through those months of sadness and exile, guided by angelic instructions by means of dreams at key points, until they were safely back at their home village. His attempt to return to Bethlehem had been overruled. His memories of the magi and the fleeing into Egypt must often have been relived as he reflected on the arrival of Jesus in the world.
Both Mary and he were told separately the name of the baby: JESUS (the LORD saves). On this name they were totally agreed and it was given to Him at his circumcision at Bethlehem eight days after his birth.
JT from 'Accentuate the Positive'