The past few weeks, as we’ve been journeying through the narratives of the birth and infancy of Jesus, we’ve met more than a few key characters. Many of them have graced our churches and homes in the crèches we display; they’ve appeared in facebook posts and memes; they’ve been the subject of many a sermon and hymn.
So who ARE these people? Well, they’re nobodies. They’re misfits – and I don’t mean that in a negative way, but rather that they aren’t what society—then or now—would expect or accept to be bearers of such profoundly good news.
Now, I’m going to skip over Mary and Joseph; though we could certainly consider them: Mary, the unmarried pregnant virgin bearing the Son of God; Joseph the unmarried carpenter charged with supporting and raising said child. Average people, who up to this point have not stood out in any way within their communities.
But let’s consider the secondary figures in the narratives.
We started out with the shepherds. Ah, those nameless friends, hanging out in the fields, watching their flocks. Wait—who does that? Well, the hired hands. The day labourers. In our day and time, when it comes to agricultural work, they’re often migrant workers. And they pulled a night shift. That’s even worse! The good workers get the easier day shift, the folks shepherding at night have to struggle extra hard to keep track of the sheep as they graze, vulnerable, in the darkness; the shepherds are attentive to make sure nothing is sneaking in.
Then, of course, Jesus is presented at the temple. Now, this community doesn’t know Mary and Joseph; they are simply devout traveling strangers who are meeting their religious requirements. And we meet Simeon and Anna: old folks, living off the charity of others, who randomly approach Jesus, pluck him from his mothers’ arms, and declare him holy. These are the nobodies in the temple, the ones generally ignored and left alone, not what we would consider contributing members of society. Yet they are there to demonstrate the power of community to recognise and celebrate that which is Holy in their midst. They give credence to the sacred nature of the child far beyond the scope of his immediate earthly family.
We then engage with the magi: the wise men, folks who have a more-than-earthly wisdom, who really listen to the calling of the Spirit. Folks who traveled for years, not even knowing what their destination was. Vagrants; journeyers, foreign aliens, living out of a suitcase or backpack. Folks who, by ‘going home by a different road,’ have actually disobeyed the local government, denied traditional authority.
These are not the people who make the news; at least not in a positive way. If anything, these are the folks that we as society tend to avoid; they are the trouble-makers, the protestors, the misfits.
They started out as ordinary folks, and in fact remain ordinary folks: the shepherds go back to the fields, Simeon and Anna stay in the temple, the magi go back home. Yet these ordinary folks were called to do extraordinary things; and God gave them the vision, faith, and opportunity to do these things.
And these ordinary people, these misfits, lived out their ministry. They shared their story, they lived their faith: for the love of God, for the benefit of the faithful, for the joy to be shared with all the world.
So God bless the misfits—from the Bible and from our streets—for sometimes they bring us the good news.