It is believed that Jesus grew up in Nazareth. But what do we know about this place? Is it even mentioned in the Old Testament?
The Word was made flesh in Nazareth (Jn 1:14), when Mary answered the Archangel Gabriel:
“You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said” (Lk 1:38).
In fact, it is thanks to the preservation of the name in the Gospel that Nazareth once emerged from the oblivion of ancient times mentioned in a few documents which still exist.
There is no mention of this locality in the Old Testament which takes into account little of what became of the royal dynasties put aside by Maccabees, such as the dynasties of the high priests and their traditions that the Essenians preserved, so little witnessed throughout history before the discoveries of Qumran.
Mary and Joseph lived there before they had to leave to go to Bethlehem (Lk 2:4). Later, Jesus lived there, with His family, during His childhood and His hidden life. He was always referred to as the Nazarene, both by His disciples and His enemies.
The City of the Annunciation was forgotten by Christendom until the 17th century
Jesus left Nazareth to be baptized by John in the Jordan (Mk 1:9) and began His ministry. He later returned to His birthplace and preached in the synagogue there, but His fellow-citizens did not appreciate the fact that he chose not to show his healing talents in front of them but rather invited them to discover who He was by meditating the prophets’ teachings. They also wanted to push him off the hill on which the city is built (Lk 4:29).
Since the time of Christ’s death, the city has known many trials. It was ransacked by the Romans at the time of the Jewish rebellion in the year 67; it underwent Persian then Muslim occupations, and in 1263 was destroyed by the Saracens, on Sultan Baibar’s order. The arrival to Nazareth of the Franciscans, in 1620, made it possible for the town to gradually regain its reputation as an important place of Christendom. Nothing much noticeable remains of the Our Lord’s village.
But as shown in the splendid review “The World of the Bible” (Le Monde de la Bible) dedicated to Nazareth, excavations have made it possible to find traces of the biblical village and successive shrines have been built above the very house where the Blessed Virgin Mary received the angel’s message.
On this site, an imposing basilica was built between 1960 and 1969. The interior decoration was entrusted to eminent artists coming from all the parts of the world. Therefore today the humble vestiges of the dwellings of the time of Jesus stand near the monument erected for the glory of His mother. But Nazareth is first and foremost, for the Christians, the place where the fabulous mystery of the Incarnation took place; it is advisable to meditate on the extraordinary greatness of this mystery while preparing to celebrate Christmas.
Excerpt from Understand the Bible (Comprendre la Bible, December 1999)