Seyðisfjörður. A place I long to visit, in a land of chunky knit jumpers, heavy-duty snow shovels and unpronounceable Christian names.
My guess is that, unless you have been watching “Trapped” on BBC4 on Saturday nights, you have absolutely no idea where Seyðisfjörður is.
To end your suspense , Seyðisfjörður is a small community hugging the narrow fjord coastline on the east of Iceland, on the opposite side to cosmopolitan Reykjavík.
Even in summer it must feel remote, cut off from civilisation. However, in winter even more so, when the mountain road is blocked by snow and the only way out is on the weekly car ferry. It’s dark and it’s cold.
And there is a murderer loose, allowing all kinds of plot angles and haunting photography from the director who brought us “Everest.”
But living in a small, isolated community means not only that everyone knows everyone else but everyone knows everyone’s history. This is what gives the plot depth. Events, which anywhere else would have been long forgotten, are stored for ever in the chill Icelandic climate.
You cannot escape from the murderer (whoever he or she may be) and you cannot escape from your past, as Hjörtur Jónsdóttir knows only too well. (Try reading that out loud).
Just like Nazareth.
In my BRF Bible reading from Luke 4 this morning Jesus begins his ministry by returning to his home town. It’s the Sabbath and so he goes as usual to the synagogue, where he teaches from scripture.
And he makes a good impression, at least to begin with. Luke tells us: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” (v22)
And then Luke adds, somewhat ominously. “‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked.”
As if to say, we know the carpenter’s son well enough, after all he has lived among us, serving our community, for nearly all of his life. No doubt everyone would have their own take on Mary, on the events 30 years previous.
For the record, Nazareth had a poor reputation. As Nathaniel scoffed “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Intriguingly we don’t know the backstory.
And more – it doesn’t even get a mention in the Hebrew scriptures, what we know as the Old Testament. The reason is that nothing ever happened there. Certainly it could not boast, like Seyðisfjörður incidentally, no famous sons or daughters.
Moreover, it wasn’t very big. The most recent archaeological research suggests a population of about 480. Seyðisfjörður is somewhat bigger, at 665. By our standards, tiny.
And like Seyðisfjörður, Nazareth was about to become a murder scene.
For as Luke tells us at the conclusion of his sermon the good folk of Nazareth sought to kill Jesus by marching him out of the synagogue to the nearby cliff top. “But Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:30)
The big question is why this over-the-top response to his teaching?
The simple answer is that Jesus firmly rejected the settler mentality of his townsfolk by showing God as welcoming everyone, including those Gentile inhabitants of the rival settlement of Sepphoris just down the road. This was a rich and cosmopolitan township, prepared to embrace Roman rule.
And in small communities passions run high when you don’t fit in. Just ask Hjörtur.
So the wonder and welcome of the Gospel message is shown in his name: Jesus of Nazareth. Who in their right mind wants to be associated with Nazareth?
Every country has a place like Nazareth, where nothing ever happens there, no one of any distinction lives there, no one of any importance comes from there.
But this how God works, subverting our values and challenging our deepest assumptions. As the apostle Paul observes: “God chose what the world thinks is unimportant and what the world looks down on and thinks is nothing in order to destroy what the world thinks is important.” (1 Corinthians 1:28)
The challenge for us is to change our way of thinking and to allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to think like our Creator.