A few weeks ago, I watched a video of fireworks going off in modern-day Nazareth on New Year’s Eve. The person filming was on the roof of his building, so he was able to capture quite a spectacular panoramic display. There was anticipation and excitement in the air as the sky was filled with color and flashes of light. Everyone in Nazareth that night would have been able to see the light.
This scene presented quite the contrast between Nazareth today and Nazareth of 2,000 years ago. The Light of the World, the Light of Light, the very God of very God had come down to dwell with them, but hardly anyone seemed to notice. The prophet Isaiah states that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Is. 9:2). But had they? It sure didn’t seem like it.
When the holy family returned to Nazareth from their sojourn in Bethlehem and Egypt, they began to lead what seemed like a reasonably provincial life. Joseph went to work in the carpentry shop while Mary worked at home, raising Jesus and the other children who would come later. Nothing much happened out of the ordinary (as far as we know) until Jesus turned twelve, and they traveled to the temple in Jerusalem for the Passover. That’s when his parents lost track of Jesus and weren’t able to find him for several days. When they finally found him teaching the teachers at the temple, he said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).
That’s the only episode we have in Scripture from the events surrounding his birth until the beginning of his ministry that shows there was something special about this boy. From all accounts, everyone in Nazareth would have just thought of Jesus as a very good boy who obeyed his parents and worked hard with his father as a tekton’s apprentice in the family trade. (A tekton was a builder who worked with wood and stone.)
That’s why the townspeople in Nazareth were so shocked when Jesus began his ministry in Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing people. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, whose father and mother we know?” (John 6:42). “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things?” (Matt 13:55-56)
From all accounts, everyone in Nazareth would have just thought of Jesus as a very good boy who obeyed his parents and worked hard with his father as a tekton’s apprentice in the family trade.
It’s also why Nathanael responded the way he did when Philip told him that they had found the Messiah in Nazareth. “Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Philip’s response was simple and concise: “come and see.”
That’s our invitation this Epiphany season as well. Come and see Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan as he begins his earthly ministry. Come and see him overcoming the devil’s temptations in the wilderness. Come and see him turn water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Come and see him on the mountain peak, as he gives us a peek of his future glory. Come and see him descend to the plain, as he sets his face like flint toward Jerusalem and to the cross, to die for our sins and the sins of all the world.
Five years ago, I was on a tour of Israel and had the opportunity to be in Nazareth and to see the massive bronze door at the front of the Church of the Annunciation. It has six main panels that depict scenes from the life of Christ - from his birth, to his baptism, to his ministry, and finally to his death on the cross.
It’s too bad that door wasn’t there for the local townsfolk to see 2,000 years ago. It might have cleared a few things up for them. But the good news is it’s there for us now. It's not just way over in the Holy Land, but right in the palm of our hands through the word of God. During this Epiphany season, Jesus is not only the light, he’s also the door. He is the way to forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal. Come and see!