“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” Strangely enough, the great physician (although we know nothing of his medical practice) Luke was writing about a place an ocean and a sea away from here. The place names of eastern Pennsylvania demonstrate the religious awareness of the early colonial Europeans who brought their Bibles and diseases to this nation. Bethlehem, Pennsylvania was known more for being a house of steel than being a house of bread. It’s just down the road from the little town of Nazareth, made famous by The Band’s classic hit, “The Weight.” The road to Emmaus is nearby. And the major medical facility is, you guessed it, St. Luke’s.
The Band had an influence somewhat surprising for those who may have trouble recalling their nondescript name. “The Weight” is a story of a traveler coming to, of all places, Nazareth, Pennsylvania. So taken by the song was a Scottish band that they adopted the name Nazareth before informing us that “Love Hurts.” This is something the evangelist and purported doctor Luke presumably knew. If you go down from Nazareth even unto Bethlehem, you’ll find the steel city recast as the Christmas city. For those of us who grew up in the western part of the state, Pittsburgh was the real steel city anyway. When I was growing up, Pittsburgh was the 16th largest city in the country. It now sits at 65th, because, like Bethlehem it had trouble drawing people without the natural hardness that is Pennsylvania. There’s a parable in a city transforming from a heavy metal to a holiday. There’s no Pittsburgh in the Bible.
When Luke begins his Christmas narrative (think of this as one of those “Christmas in July,” or August things), quoted above, he ironically leaves Mary until the next verse. Joseph, whom later tradition will say had nothing to do with the conception anyway, still gets first billing. One wonders what might’ve been different had Mary led the way. It was much later, after the gruesome crucifixion account, that Emmaus came into the picture. Two unnamed disciples were walking along that road and didn’t recognize who Jesus was. Had they kept walking, I wonder if they might’ve ended up in Pittsburgh, for the biblical names soon give way to places like Kutztown and Fleetwood, the latter of which, I have to admit, I never got into. Had Mary taken a load off in Nazareth, this story would’ve been completely different. Thus saith The Band.