Reflections: The Second Sunday after Christmas

Today’s Reading: Matthew 2:13-23

Daily Lectionary: Isaiah 62:1-12; Luke 2:1-20

And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. (Matthew 2:23)

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked Philip (John 1:46). Philip had just told him that he had found the fulfillment of Moses and all the prophets in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nazareth was quite a surprise. It wasn’t a very prominent city. No great deeds were done there. It wasn’t Jerusalem, the city of kings and the temple. It lacked the history of Bethlehem. In fact, Nazareth was never even mentioned in the Old Testament.

So what prophecy is Matthew referring to? He doesn’t give a specific prophet or a specific reference. Biblical scholars have proposed several answers to this riddle, but one stands out. In Isaiah 11:1 the prophet writes, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” The Hebrew word for “branch” is netzer. The image is of a dead tree with new life growing from an unexpected root. Sounds a lot like Nazareth.

The foundations of Israel had become bankrupt. The political and spiritual institutions that God had given His people were not just ineffective, they were actively turning people away from God. John, who baptized, who was the last prophet of the Old Testament, preached, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10). 

But off to the side, away from the center, a new Branch rises from the stump. Jesus was likely labeled “Jesus of Nazareth” as a term of dismissal or even derision. But it’s a Name that perfectly describes His benefits. The Branch from Nazareth is planted on a dead tree on the outskirts of Jerusalem. But from this Branch grows the fruit of forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Can anything good come from Nazareth? Everything good comes from Nazareth. In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Almighty God, You have poured into our hearts the true Light of Your incarnate Word. Grant that this Light may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. (Collect for the Second Sunday after Christmas)

Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church and School in Chicago, IL.

Audio Reflections Speaker: Pastor Duane Bamsch