In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)
It was “the other side of the tracks,” if there had been tracks in first-century Palestine. Nazareth was only four miles from the thriving city of Sepphoris with its luxury villas, markets, temples, and Roman theater. You can still walk among the amazing ruins at Sepphoris (Zippori) to this day.
You can see Sepphoris from Nazareth, and by car it’s only a ten-minute drive; but in Mary’s day it was an hour’s walk to Sepphoris from Nazareth. Sepphoris was where the “haves” lived. Nazareth was for the “have nots.” Nazareth doesn’t even show up on first-century lists of villages in Galilee. It was considered by the Jewish population of the region as insignificant, or worse. In John 1:46, Nathaniel asked, when told that Jesus was from Nazareth, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
A woman, who grew up in poverty, once described for me the formative years of her childhood. She lived in a trailer park at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Children teased her at school, calling her “trailer trash,” a name they had learned from their parents. Forty years and a law degree later, she was describing how it felt as a child to be made to feel small and insignificant.
When I think of Nazareth, I think of her story. If the tradition is correct, Mary’s family lived in the cheapest form of affordable housing at that time: a cave. Mary’s village was considered of “no account.” But it was precisely here that God came looking for a young woman to bear his Son.
God routinely chooses the humble and the least expected in and through whom he might do his greatest work. Mary recognized this in Luke 1:46-55, when she praised God because he “looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” while he “scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.”
Many of us live in Sepphoris. But God’s choice of a woman from Nazareth to bear the Christ leads us to see the importance God places on humility; calls us to repent of any ways in which we, like Nathaniel have said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”; and even invites us to reconsider how we celebrate the birth of Jesus.
As you are preparing for Christmas, here’s a suggestion: What if this year you recalibrated? What if this year you decided to give away a bit more to people in need and spend a bit less on yourself and your immediate family?
Our family made a commitment several years ago to donate to organizations serving the poor and those in need an amount equal to the total of what we spend on our family and friends at Christmas. This decision forces us to reduce what we spend on people who don’t really need anything, so that we can give to those who truly stand in need. In the process, we’ve found greater joy in our Christmas celebration. (The idea of giving an amount equal to what we spend on our family came from my friend, Pastor Mike Slaughter, who expands upon this idea in his book Christmas Is Not Your Birthday [Abingdon Press, 2011].)
Lord, forgive me for any time I’ve ever made others feel small. Forgive me for thinking more highly of myself than I ought. And help me, in the words of Paul, to “consider others better than myself.” Help me, this Christmas, to look for ways of increasing what I give to those in need. Amen.
This selection is from the new book, Walking the Road to Bethlehem. For more information, visit The Journey website at journeythischristmas.com.
I also include again below a video clip that tells (and shows) you more about Sepphoris and Nazareth.