“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
Eastern Washington is dotted with nearly two-dozen lakes. Some are natural, small bodies, barely more than ponds. Others, like Lake Roosevelt are long stretches of dammed river.
My family moved to an area called Four Lakes when I was nearly ten-years-old, which, as is evidenced by the moniker, is a cluster of four separate, natural lakes: Granite, Silver, Clear and Medical Lakes. We’d moved to a community just up the hill from shimmering Silver Lake.
Being an avid Anne of Green Gables reader and an over-imaginative girl myself, as well as being recently uprooted from the Palouse country (known more for it’s rolling farmland than it’s lakes and pine trees), I was enchanted.
I spent most of my adolescence in this part of Eastern Washington. That fall, my parents enrolled me in Medical Lake schools, where I happily became a ML Cardinal and spent all my middle grades at the elementary and junior-high schools.
Medical Lake is a small town. We had a pharmacy, a mini-mart, and a pizza and ice-cream store (complete with a Ms. PacMan video game that greedily gobbled up my spare quarters). On long, hot summer days, I’d ride my bike into Medical Lake to meet my best friend who lived on Clear Lake (they had waterfront property – so we nearly always rode the winding roads back to her place to swim and boat right from her dock!), at the ice cream store or the mini-mart to fill our pockets with candy for the ride home.
It didn’t take me long living in Medical Lake to learn of its particular uniqueness, however. If I met anyone from Cheney (home of Eastern Washington University) or the big city of Spokane, they always made a funny face and said, “Ooooh, you’re from Medical Lake. Which institution do they keep you at: the monkey farm or the tard farm?”
Medical Lake was known for it’s primate testing center, the guarded facility for the criminally insane, a community for people born with severe disabilities, a low-level security detainment center, a women’s prison, and in addition, we had all the Fairchild Airforce Base kids at our schools—the “basers”. So, in the greater Spokane area, my little known berg sported some big notoriety.
I quickly learned to lead people to believe I hearkened from “The Cheney Area” or “Near Four Lakes” or “West of Town on Silver Lake, Have You Heard of It?”.
Because apparently nothing good came out of Medical Lake – only the occasional escapee.
When I learned that Jesus came from an obscure and questionable reason of the Galilee region, I could nod my head with a fair amount of understanding. Of course, no Jew with his prayer shawl on straight could take seriously the Messianic claims of an itinerant carpenter from Galilee, and Nazareth, no less.
Oh, the weight of a smudged pedigree.
But what a gift this questionable home-town of Jesus is to us! Do you see?
How many times have you heard something about your past, your family, or your background criticized? How many of us have limited our futures by the expectations projected by our past?
Oh, you don’t know who I’ve been, what I’ve done.
My mom, well, if you knew then you’d understand. This is the life I’m cut out for.
I’m a tough guy because I had to be, you just don’t get it.
I, personally, chose to believe that the talent in my family ran out by the time I was born. And since I was the seventh in a long, line of talented, opinionated siblings, well, let’s just say I lacked confidence in my abilities. I strived so hard to be smart and when I realized (when I was nineteen and college was hard) that I wasn’t as smart as I needed to be, or as good as I needed to be, or as “Christian” as I should be, I gave up. I wore out.
I let my past determine my everyday approach to life. It took me a while to figure out that who God says I am matters most, and what he has for my future is only enhanced, nuanced and enriched by my past. That is a secret gift of redemption – not just that the soul is saved and has a guaranteed spot in heaven, but that every bit of my life is purposed and loved by my God. He can even use my inferiority complex.
So when Jesus was at the beginning stages of his ministry, a recent follower, Philip, approached Nathanael, a fellow Galilean who spoke the words: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Certainly not the Messiah! Where is Nazareth, anyway? Those people are hicks from the sticks! There’s only a few hundred people there, I think, so that means you HAVE to marry your cousin! What do they even do in Nazareth? This guy’s a carpenter, I guess—family business. Why is he talking to us about fishing, then? What does he know? He looks like a Nazarene, all that hair and look at that nose! I heard Nazarenes wandered over there from Africa, they aren’t even true Israelites.
Yeah, Jesus knows what it’s like to have a past follow you around.
It’s just one more detail in his incredible incarnate life that makes me realize that God is a master of details. His omniscience is a reliable thing: he cannot make mistakes and he can use every possibility to do his will: to bring salvation and redemption to this world of his.
Let’s remember this Christmas that Jesus knows all about our past, our weird family’s, our failures, our idiosyncrasies and our closeted skeletons.
He knows all about the wild opportunities before us, too.
And Jesus understands. He knows that we need to have a better way to identify ourselves.
So today, let’s try this: I’m from God’s own heart; I’m God’s own hands and his own voice and his love-note to my neighbors and community; I’m God’s own plan and his own pride-and-joy! And so are you!
COME & SEE!