Advent Meditations from La Vida: Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth or the Year 2020?

In this challenging holiday season, the La Vida Center for Outdoor Education and Leadership team has encountered encouragement, joy, curiosity and hope. As a result of these experiences, they present four Advent devotionals composed by members of the core office staff. Register to receive La Vida’s Advent devotionals via email >

By Bryn Clark, La Vida director of Compass and assistant director of advancement communications

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

—John 1:43–46 (NIV)

In many ways, 2020 is a year to forget though I highly doubt any of us will. Empty chairs at holiday dinners, desperate job hunts, blatant injustice and an ever-worsening health crisis.

If you’re like me, you’ve sometimes asked yourself, “Has any good come of 2020?”

In a verse mostly left out of Christmas narratives, we learn a lot about the sentiments surrounding Jesus’ place of origin. In John 1, Philip meets Jesus and runs to find Nathanael and tells him “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote! Jesus of Nazareth!”

And Nathanael replies “Nazareth! Can any good come of Nazareth?”

Nazareth: you can almost hear the scorn. Nazareth with its reputation for violence and disarray. It was the place you grew up and left, if you could.

“Can any good come of Nazareth?”

The Christmas story begins with the most remarkable of characters: a young woman— a girl, really—who has everything stacked against her. She was born into poverty and under the domain of a country that saw her people as a class of humanity to be contained and pitied while never heard. She lived beneath a glass ceiling that was too dirtied by the debris of injustice to see anything beyond it.

“Can any good come of Nazareth?”

The answer, of course, is yes. Not just something good, but all the good. And not just goodness, but power, justice and peace. Rightness and beauty, the rising culmination of a promised redemption. It all starts with a teenage girl in a run-down and despised town.

The Christmas story starts like the worst of 2020 and all it’s done to us. When we ask, “Can anything good come of 2020?” the story of Christ’s birth tells us, “Yes, it’s hard to believe, but yes.”

Such an answer doesn’t undermine the pain and tragedy of the last year. It’s not to paint over the anger the injustice and the hurt, the lost lives and uncertain futures. The Christmas story doesn’t whitewash the pain we experience in life. It just answers the question: “Can anything good come of this?” with a sympathetic smile and soft nod, an angel appearing to a girl while she’s doing household chores, a baby in a manger, some shepherds in the field.

What I love the most about this verse is the way it ends. “Nazareth?” Nathanael says. “Can anything good come of Nazareth?”

Philip replies, “Come and see.”

This is the invitation Advent offers to us each year, especially this year. Despite the looming uncertainty and fear, let’s together accept the invitation of Christmas to “come and see” the eternal hope that is strong and good enough to redeem anything. Even 2020. 

Discussion Questions

  • Name some of the difficult or bad things that have happened this year. Have you taken the time to process, grieve and/or mourn?
  • What are some of the positive things that have taken place this past year? Have you taken the time to celebrate them?
  • When you read the Christmas story, do you find yourself relating to Mary? Why or why not?
  • What do you feel when reading the final words of today’s reading: “Come and see”? Does this excite you? Does it prompt cynicism or does it evoke hope in you?