Can Anything Good Come Out Of Nazareth/Ferguson?

fergusonJourney to Bethlehem: Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth Ferguson?

Luke 1:28-36

November  30, 2014

Where is your hometown?

Can you think of something your hometown is known for?

Now here’s a more difficult question…one to ponder later today…

how do you think your hometown has influenced who you are today?

Today, as we begin the season of Advent,

we begin a 4-week series of sermons based on the events, people, and places

leading up to the birth of Jesus.

Today we’re looking at Mary,

and her hometown of Nazareth.

As we begin, I’d like for you to pull out your bulletin insert for today.

It has a map of Israel-Palestine at the time of Jesus on it.

As you look at your map, you can find the region of Galilee near the top.

The body of water there isn’t labelled, but it is the Sea of Galilee.

There are a few towns which are named.

We’re going to look at two of them:

Sepphoris and Nazareth.

Here’s what we know about Sepphoris…

Sepphoris was a wealthy Roman city.

Ruins of the city are still visible.

The ruins show that at the time of Jesus’ birth,

the wealthy lived in villas,

with floors tiled with beautiful mosaics..

There were probably about 30,000 people living in Sepphoris when Jesus was born.

Now let’s contrast that with Nazareth, aka “Podunk, Galilee.”

Nazareth was a town which if it weren’t for Jesus, would never have been on a map.

There was a historian in first century Palestine

by the name of Josephus.

He knew the region well.

In his writings he names 45 towns in Galilee –

he doesn’t even mention Nazareth!

Remember in the gospel of John

when Jesus’ disciple Nathaniel says to his brother Philip,

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

It was highly doubtful that anything could come out of Nazareth…

let alone something good!

There were probably 400 people at the most living in Nazareth when Jesus was born.

Its residents were probably shepherds and farmers,

who would walk an hour to get to the bigger town of Sepphoris to sell their goods.

There is no evidence that there were any villas in Nazareth.

Instead, it’s most likely that the residents there lived in limestone caves hewn into the rock –

far more humble homes than in Sepphoris.

One thing that Nazareth did have was a spring.

Most new towns started around a water source,

and Nazareth grew up around its spring which is still visible today.

In Jesus’ day, springs were called “living water,”

(a phrase Jesus used to describe the living presence of God.)

There is now a Greek Orthodox church built on top of that spring,

called the ’Annunciation,’ and some say,

that it was here that Mary received the announcement from Gabriel –

at the spring of living water.

Of course if you’ve ever visited the Holy Land,

you know that there are often conflicting stories about exactly where events from the Bible took place.

According to Roman Catholic tradition,

the annunciation took place at a different place – just a few hundred yards away.

The Basilica of the Annunciation has been built over remains of a cave dwelling,

said to be the home of Mary.

Regardless – whether the annunciation happened at a cave or at a spring,

we know that it happened in Nazareth.

Why Nazareth?

Why Nazareth and not a city of commerce such as Sepphoris?

Why Nazareth and not a center of religion such as Jerusalem?

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

chooses people who live in the least likely places

to do the miraculous.

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

sees potential in the forgotten and faraway places.

The choice of Nazareth seems to say that God

can raise up leaders from anywhere,

even among places which are deeply hurting.

And so the choice of Nazareth gives me hope…especially in a week like this.

It gives me hope that God can do something with a town called Ferguson, MO.

It gives me hope that God can transform it from a place of shame,

to a place of resurrection life.

It gives me hope that God can raise up leaders

from among those who have been ignored and mistreated.

Nazareth gives me hope for Ferguson,

and all the places in our nation – large or small –

which now must begin the hard work of listening and remembering and responding,

so that the death of a young black man is not in vain.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Can anything good come out of Ferguson?

As Gabriel said to Mary,

“Nothing is impossible for God.”

Amen.

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