Some of us were born, live and die within shouting distance from the same grocery stores, churches, and schools. We know the roads backwards and forwards and can pretty well name every person who ever lived in every house in town (if the town is small enough, that is). But a whole lot of us aren't born the same place we end up. And the place we think of as our home town isn't even the place we carry with us on every passport as long as we live. I'm one of these nomadic types. I was born in a place I only lived three weeks before flying away in the arms of my mother for my dad's next naval assignment. It wasn't until about half a dozen years ago that I was even in San Pedro, California again, and that was only because E was playing in a basketball tournament down near there in the greater Los Angeles area. So obviously, San Pedro isn't my home town. Nor is Ypsilanti, Michigan my hometown, though my youngest sister was born there, and has to carry that hard-to-spell name with her ever after. I was eight when Dad finished his PhD at the University of Michigan and we left for Pullman, Washington. Pullman, the place where I grew up, and had the most halcyon of child and youth-hoods, graduated from high school, got married, and buried my parents (at least symbolically), is my hometown.
Oddly, my life bears a resemblance to Jesus' earthly one. He too, was born in a place he barely lived, though Bethlehem was likely his home for several months before those visitors from the east came through, bringing gifts, stirring up the pot and Herod, and forcing God the spirit the little family away in the dark of night. The place Jesus learned to crawl and walk and speak sentences was somewhere in Egypt, where Joseph presumably made cabinets and tables for Egyptians and Mary cared for their family and they waited for God to tell them it was safe to return from their exile. And when they returned, it wasn't to Bethlehem they came back to, but Nazareth, where Joseph and Mary were from in the first place.
All of this was foretold--that He'd be born in Bethlehem, but also that He'd be called a Nazarene. Isaiah 11:2. It isn't that Joseph and Mary read the prophet and knew they had to go back to Nazareth to fulfill God's plan. They were just doing what came naturally to them--to return to their hometown. God knew all along that their home town was exactly the right place for the Incarnate to grow up.
This really appeals to me. Later in His ministry, when people hear Jesus speak, they ask, "How can He be the Messiah? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" I've heard people say similar things about my hometown. But most of the time, when folks say such things it's because they have no idea how important a hometown is. What it is. For Jesus, Nazareth was the only place He could grow into the Son of Man. I can't tell you why this is so, I can only tell you that God the Father who is purposeful intended this. He told us it was His intention, and He did it. So there was something about Nazareth that was important for Jesus' human growth.
And make no mistake, that human growth is nothing to sneer about. We often forget that this is a man who lived 33 years without every doing a single thing wrong. Without a single mis-step or wrong motive or selfish act. I think about what it was like raising children, how difficult some days were--and I had pretty good, easy, compliant kids--and I can't imagine one who always, always obeyed. So imagine that moment when Jesus was 12, when He didn't turn up at the end of the evening on the way home from Jerusalem. Twelve years of never having to worry about a kid doing the wrong thing--EVER--and suddenly He just doesn't show up for dinner? Wow. I'd be shaking in my dusty sandals, I can tell you that. And even then, He was in the right place, and they were the ones in the wrong. Imagine that--your twelve-year-old holds you to a higher standard.
That's what it was like to live as His parents, I think. And maybe that's what it was like to live in town with Him. Maybe what was most needed during those 30 years of growing up and preparation for ministry was an out-of-the-way place where He could be hidden and quiet and not have too much attention.
Kind of like living in a small town among rolling wheatfields. You have to be going there in order to get there, if you know what I mean. But once you do, it's worth the trip. That's the truth about my hometown. And I think it's true about Nazareth as well.