The story of Christmas is really a journey through Israel. In this series, we will be taking you through the story, one location at a time, and making Christ’s birth come to life for you.
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.” John 1:46
In the last edition of our series we learned about the events of Zachariah and Elizabeth in a town in the land of Judah which today is called Ein Karem. Approximately 90 miles north of Ein Karem there was a little town in the hills of Galilee called Nazareth, a place that was known to be of poor circumstance and little consequence. It was a small town which had agriculture as its main occupation along with a few trades supporting that, such as carpentry. It was so unimportant that little mention has ever been made in historical records though archeological findings date it back about 3000 years.
During the time of King Herod and Caesar Augustus, Nazareth was under Roman Empire rule like the rest of Israel, and in it lived what was probably several families, interconnected through marriage. One of these marriages was to be between a local man by the name of Joseph, whose lineage could be traced back to King David, and a young girl, Mary.
Mary would have likely been a teenager, as betrothals in that day and culture happened very young by today’s standards. The Bible does not state who her parents were, though Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican traditions identify her as the daughter of Joachim and Anne, citing the apocryphal Book of James.
While betrothed to Joseph, she was visited by the angel Gabriel and told she would conceive a son, even though she had never been with a man, because the Holy Spirit would conceive the child.
Joseph, finding out about the pregnancy upon her return from her visit to Elizabeth in Judea, planned to quietly send her away, which speaks to his character, as he could have called for her stoning. After being spoken to by Gabriel in a dream to not be afraid and that this was of the Holy Spirit, he decided to resume with the marriage, promising not to be with her until after she’d given birth.
After Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and hiding from Herod in Egypt, they returned to Nazareth, where Jesus grew up. He lived there until after the time of his temptation, and when he returned he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and preached a stirring message from Isaiah 61 (Luke 4:16-21) as a result of which they did not accept him and tried to thrust him from the brow of a steep hill on which the city was built (Luke 4:28-30), “But he passing through the midst of them went his way”.
All of these events happened in this small town that went from being unknown to most anyone living outside of the area to being the setting of the beginning of the changing of the entire world.
Nazareth today embraces it’s history and has several places and events that serve in remembrance. One of these include Nazareth Village, an interactive experience that allows you to experience Nazareth the way Jesus would have done. Another place of interest is the Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth where archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of a 1st century “courtyard house” which may have been the place where Jesus spent his formative years.
Catholic churches in the area are markers for where the Church teaches that events of the Bible happened. These include the Church of the Annunciation, where tradition holds is the location of Gabriel speaking to Mary, including a well they believe was the specific location. One very interesting place to see adjacent to the church is a first century home discovered in 2009 that was likely there when Jesus was living in Nazareth. It provides amazing insight into the modest beginnings of the King of Kings.
In addition to traditional and archeological sites, there are also large-scale Christmas events, including a The Nazareth Christmas Market Festival that includes a market place, music, and tree lighting at Mary’s Well. It lasts 5 days (this year being December 18-22).
There is also a Christmas parade that takes place every Christmas Eve that takes thousands of youth and Christian leaders into the streets. It concludes with fireworks and mass.
Nazareth was the not the place where Jesus was born, but it is certainly plays an important part of the story of Christmas, and the history of our Salvation.
If you go to Nazareth today, you will not find the quiet rural town of Jesus’ day. Instead you will find a busy metropolis of around 76,000 people. It has the largest Christian population in the nation, with about 30% of the town’s population being professing Christians.