“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
(John 1:46, NIV)
Many years ago, I was particularly impacted by a Christmas sermon by Tim Keller that continues to have significance for me today. Twenty-seven years ago I began a PhD program in Counseling Psychology at Columbia University in New York City and also began attending Keller’s church. He challenged me with a key question from the Christmas story.
As we celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation, we read that the Son of God/Son of Man comes from Nazareth. A common theme of biblical accounts is that Jesus was born into insignificance. Nazareth was the backwoods of Galilee which was the backwoods of Israel which was the backwoods of the Roman Empire. In that backwoods of the backwoods of the backwoods was the King of the universe. In that weakness was the all-powerful God. In that obscurity was the greatest event in history.
True greatness is naturally invisible to worldly eyes. God loves to use things that turn the values and expectations of the world upside down. Human culture flows from the top down and from the center out. God’s spiritual renewals and awakenings tend to come from the margins to the center; from the outside in. We can see this looking at Jesus and His disciples and at spiritual revivals throughout history.
The Christmas story confronts us with this question: “Can we live in a place of brilliance without being blinded by it?” It is commonly said that “All that glitters is not gold.” I was immersed in a glittery graduate program in a glittery city and it was easy to mistake it all as “gold” according to the world’s measuring stick. The Christmas story, however, tells us that “All that is gold does not glitter.” Real greatness is naturally invisible to the worldly eye.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? The Son of God/Son of Man emptied Himself in the obscure backwoods of Nazareth that we may celebrate the greatest story ever told.