'Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’’ John 1:45-46
Brothers and sisters, I was brought up in a mining town in South Staffordshire. My father still lives there. I can see in many ways it is a rather unglamorous place. You could not describe my hometown as a place of renown or beauty. But you know what? Even though I left to go to University at the age of 18; even though it is not the most picturesque place on the planet, in a significant sense it is home. Of course, clergy must become used to having several different homes throughout their ministry and one year on I feel very at home in Lancashire. But you will understand the place where I lived my formative years is still in a significant sense home to me. All of this becomes relevant when we hear today's gospel. Can any good come out of Nazareth? These days, if like me you have had the privilege of visiting, you will know that Nazareth is a very large, thriving town. On first arriving it becomes quite difficult to imagine it as the site where the young Mary went about her business and received her Visitation. Some canny locals have set up a workshop which purports to be how Joseph’s might have been, but it is hardly straightforward to see the modern Nazareth as the humble, insignificant place, that Nathaniel refers to. With the benefit of hindsight, we know that Nazareth was a key part of identifying Jesus as the Messiah. If we ever do struggle to forge our way through the genealogies in the gospels, then we realise that they are there to prove Jesus’ messianic credentials. He had to come from ‘David’s line’ and Nazareth plays its part.
The most significant aspect of today's readings is about calling. In the reading from Samuel, we hear the account where Samuel is called in the night and we hear as the older man mentors the younger boy. Please listen carefully to what God is saying to you and ask him to make himself present and clearly audible, is Eli’s counsel. This is an important lesson for us too. God wishes to be present and speaking to us, but it is our responsibility to help that happen by seeking to be attentive. In the gospel reading, calling is very apparent. Jesus is carefully assembling his team and goes to Galilee and calls Phillip who, in turn, passes the message on. Note the impact that leads to Philip speaking to Nathaniel. One of the early accounts of the gospel that is so striking is that we cannot know what Philip has heard of Jesus prior to this time. The gospel does not tell us that Philip was present when John the Baptist acclaimed Jesus, but we do know that Andrew and Peter heard John’s words and that Philip was from the same town. We hear the comment doubting the qualities of Nazareth and its ability to produce a Messiah, but we then have the wonderful exchange between Jesus and Nathaniel. On face value, Nathaniel is persuaded by Jesus that he is the Messiah simply because he sees him shading under a tree. It is one of several accounts today of people hearing God’s call. In each case this is marked, distinctive and powerful. We know, or come to know, the part that each of them will play in establishing the Good News of the coming of Salvation from God. We do not know all that they hear and respond to. However, I do not know about you but this rings true for me. When I tell my story of faith there are many factors that led me to the point of being a disciple of Christ. There were some influential people who showed me something special about being a Christian. There was the fact that I had good early influences through a church school and a godly headmaster. Whilst not at the time a church attending family at least my parents encouraged me to understand that we were Christians. For all that, I can identify in my own life some precious moments when, like Samuel, I heard God calling me to follow. In the end that is critical. If we are truly to acknowledge that Jesus is the One who comes to bring Salvation, then that needs to make sense to us personally. That will mean that at some point in our lives we must make our own very distinct response. For me that came when I responded as a young adult in seeking confirmation and ordination because I heard God say to me ‘this is what I wish you to do’. In the weeks ahead we find our way working through what is an extraordinarily challenging time of pandemic, we face more isolation from one another and especially those whom we love. It will be so important to have the reassuring voice of God before us. Reassuring ourselves and others that God is present will be an important part of our calling. Through these weeks before Candlemas we hear the way in which Jesus called people to follow him and calls people to follow him today. We also hear how Jesus is shown, revealed to be the Messiah, that there are epiphanies by which Jesus is seen to be the one who has come into the world to restore our relationship with God.
So, what now, is our call? First, we need to be comfortable in our own knowledge of that. Then, I suggest, we have a responsibility to think, even in these times, how the Church bears witness to that. Finally, we must pray each day to ask God as he speaks to us. What would God, say to us individually as well as a church, about how we live our lives during a pandemic in faithful recognition of the One who has come into the world to bring salvation. Amen (from Archdeacon David).