You know those arguments where two people argue and neither one of them will admit that they are wrong? They just keep going around and around in circles until one of them gets tired and they walk away from the argument (usually with no one willing to concede that they are wrong).
I had an argument like this with my mom, around the time that I was learning how to drive. We had pulled up to a red light at a major intersection, but for some reason, there was no traffic that morning. After what felt like an eternity of sitting at this red light with no cross traffic, I turned to my mom and said: why are you still stopped, you know you can turn left on a red light, right? The sarcasm and sass that came out of my mouth would have been enough to get me grounded for years. But my mom very calmly looked at me and tried teaching me that it was absolutely illegal to turn left on a red light. She made it very clear that whoever taught me that was wrong.
Of course, with me being a teenager, I got defensive. I told her that I couldn’t believe that she was unaware that she could turn left on a red light. She had, after all, probably wasted so much time in her life waiting to turn left on a red light. I had seen many people turn left on a red light. And my dad had even taught me how to do it safely. I made it my mission that morning to make it as clear as possible to her that there is nothing illegal about turning left on a red light.
As you can probably imagine, this argument continued all the way home. It intensified with every block we drove past and it ended with us walking into the house fuming at each other because of how wrong the other one was.
So who was right? Was she? Was I? Surely we couldn’t both be right, could we?
If you have been paying attention to the details of the story, you probably know that we were both right. My mom was right in that at a four way intersection, it is absolutely illegal to turn left on a red light. But I was also right in that if you are on a one way, turning left onto another one way, it is absolutely legal to turn left.
While this is a funny little example of two people being right in the same argument, this idea of two viewpoints being correct is a very difficult thing to understand. How can both stories and viewpoints be right?
Maybe you have experienced something similar. You got into an argument with your significant other. They are mad that you didn’t wash the dishes but you are mad that they don’t see how difficult your day was. Who is right in this argument?
Maybe you experienced this when you made a choice at work that you thought was the best choice but your boss thinks the other choice would have been best. Who is right in this argument?
Maybe you experienced this when it came to the choices you made last weekend. Your friends and family are telling you that what you did was wrong, but you just know deep inside of you that the choice you made is the right one. Who is right in this argument?
Arguments are so hard because depending on what side of the argument you stand on, you feel like you are right and the other person is wrong. Surely, it is not possible for both to be right.
With the Advent and Christmas seasons upon us, many of my friends have posted on social media that they started reading through the Gospel stories. Many are actually reading through the Gospel of Luke this month because there are 24 days before Christmas days and 24 chapters in the book. If you read a chapter a day, you read it all before Christmas. (I encourage you to do this, you can still catch up!)
As I was reading through the many posts, I noticed a very interesting comment the other day. One friend said that in reading through the Gospels, she noticed that the story in the Gospel of Luke is very different from the story in the Gospel of Matthew. She was wondering which story was right and which one was wrong. She wanted to know if it was wise men that visited Jesus or shepherds. She wanted to know why one account said that Joseph wanted to walk away from his relationship with Mary while the other made it seem like he was never in doubt that he wanted to be with Mary. She wanted to know whether the baby was supposed to be called Jesus or Emmanuel. The questions kept going on and on and on.
I smiled as I read through her questions, because I wanted to comment this on her post: yes.
Yes. The two stories we have of Jesus’ birth are both very different but they are also very similar. Yes, they give the facts differently, but yes they are also the same. Yes, the order doesn’t always line up, but yes, all these things did happen. Yes, there were shepherds, but yes there were also wise men. The answer to her questions, was yes.
In some strange and beautiful way, just like both my mom and I were right about turning left on a red light, so are the two birth accounts we read about in the bible. Sure, it may sound like they contradict each other, but maybe neither is wrong. Maybe it is not about which is right and which is wrong, but about what is found in the middle.
Perhaps that is what the bible, particularly the birth stories, can do for us today. As you read through these stories this advent season, don’t focus on things that may seem to contradict each other or be in conflict with each other and try to make sense of them. (At least not yet). Instead, focus on the central message that both are trying to convey: the fact that a child will be born that will take away the power that sin and shame has over us.
At the center of these stories, whether the narratives seem to agree or not, is that this child whose birth we are awaiting is going to enter this world and offer us the opportunity to break every chain that holds us down. Sin will have no power over you. Fear has no room in your life. Anxiety and depression are defeated. Broken relationships can be made whole and nothing, not even death, will have power over you.
That is the message of the birth.
My prayer is that you will come to find that message as you read through the bible stories and prepare for Christmas. I invite you this month, to read through your bible, to have conversations about what you are reading, to notice the things that seem to contradict each other. But above all else, notice the message found somewhere in the middle of these stories because when we do, we find the greatest news ever. I pray that this advent season, we may find this good news together.
Together on the journey,