When you think about it, nearly everyone and everything connected to the first Christmas was on the wrong side of history.
Zechariah and Elizabeth were on the wrong side of history for sure. They were an elderly Jewish couple, living in an occupied land. They had no platform, no political clout. Even worse–they had no children. Their legacy would die with them: no son to carry his father’s name, no daughter to bear grandchildren. They were prepared to die unwept, unhonored, and unsung, an anonymous couple holding fast the religion of their ancestors. They were on the wrong side of the empire, the wrong side of culture, even the wrong side of fertility.
Mary and Joseph were on the wrong side of history too. Mary, a teenage girl with no husband, no dowry, and no way to explain the life inside of her, at least in a way that her family and her culture would possibly comprehend. There was to be no way around the scandal and shame of a baby born outside wedlock, scandal that would follow her and her child for many years. And Joseph, who did not avail himself of the clear permission that Moses’ law gave him to send his betrothed away in reproach. Joseph, who in the eyes of his father and brothers and friends now was the man willing to live with a whore. The reward for his trouble would be a life of labor, carpentry without a country, and a reputation as a man who had let himself be cuckolded.
Shepherds lived on the wrong side of history. Anonymous laborers who would make the term “blue-collar” seem extravagant. Their life’s hope was that enough of the flock would survive wolves and bears. No “opportunity for advancement” here, except wherever they would guide a foul-smelling herd on a particular night. How many believed their story about the night the angels came and told them about a baby, lying in a barn in Bethlehem? Did their children? Did their grandchildren? Did enough people laugh at them to convince them later in life that it must have all been an elaborate prank or mass hallucination? The word of a shepherd was to be taken lightly.
What about Simeon and Anna? I’m afraid they were on the wrong side of history as well. Two elderly, devout Jews, seemingly ignoring the Roman centurions around them so they could keep babbling about some Messiah. It was like they had never heard of someone called the emperor. Anna the widow never left the Temple; “Don’t listen to her, she’s crazy,” they would say. “Too heavenly minded and no earthly good.” Simeon and Anna, praying to a God who had not stopped an exile and an overthrow, talking about a king whose ancestral line had long been broken. Simeon and Anna, two more religious nutjobs who wouldn’t accept reality.
Poor, mute Zechariah. Poor cuckolded Joseph, poor philandering Mary. Poor daydreaming shepherds. Poor deluded Simeon and Anna. If they could have just accepted the Way Things Are, maybe their lives could have been more. Maybe they could have served in Herod’s palace, or been a confidant of Caiaphas.
If they had just been on the right side of history, maybe the world would still be talking about them.