Good morning and welcome to Immanuel Church. I hope you have had an enjoyable Thanksgiving break, and I hope you have many things to be thankful for. I know I have.
Over the last several months, as Immanuel has gotten underway, one of the things I have been most thankful for is the opportunity to get to know this group better. We have chatted by playgrounds (while keeping an eye and ear out for the kids). We have conversed over delicious barbecue lunches. We have caught up over coffee. In these conversations, there are a variety of questions that surface as we get to know each other better, questions like where do you work or how old are your kids or what are your hobbies or what is your major. But there is always one question that inevitably surfaces that is particularly telling: Where ya from?
Where are you from? The answer to this little question speaks volumes. Knowing where you’re from helps me understand some of what makes you you. If you say you grew up in Southern California, that will help me better understand you. If you say you come from a small town I’ve never heard of in middle Tennessee, that helps me picture you better. If you say, “I’m from the great state of Texas,” I’ll say, “Oh boy, here we go.” One year we were working on a mission trip in Queens, New York, and we were serving at a nursing home, and I got to hear stories of folks who were born and raised in Brooklyn. It just blew my mind. It is like being from another planet for me. It was so interesting to learn about their lives in Brooklyn. I had one friend whom I had known fairly well, but one day he told me about where he was from. He was from New Jersey. And he told me stories of growing up in New Jersey and sailing on the Hudson. He told me about driving a delivery truck in lower Manhattan, trying to navigate the traffic and people trying to steal stuff off the back. Knowing where he was from was so helpful for me; it really became an interpretive key after that. Occasionally, I would encounter an action or assumption that did not make sense to me, but knowing where he was from helped me have a better sense of what was intended. Knowing where someone is from often goes a long way in understanding who they are.
And that’s why the passage we are going to read today is so exciting, because we get to find out where Jesus is from. In the section of Luke we are about to read, we will learn several details about where Jesus is from, and these details are going to be very significant to understanding who Jesus is and what he is up to.
 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Wow! What a story that is developing! Now, let me back up and put this all in context.
Israel has been in a period of radio silence. God had started a new project in the world through the formation of a new people, Israel, and they were to be blessed and a blessing to the whole world. But it seemed like the whole project had been a failure. They had been punished for their distrust and disobedience, and sent into exile. They had now returned to the promised land, but it was sorry sight. They had rebuilt the temple, but it was so small (compared to Solomon’s temple) the elders wept when they saw. They were back in the land, but they were really just a doormat for the great empires of the day, first Greece and now Rome. They were a Roman-occupied country. They had not heard from the Lord in hundreds of years. But now things were beginning to stir. God was on the move.
It all began last week with the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. In the opening verses of Luke, we met this older couple who had never had children, but then something amazing happened, something that had not happened in hundreds of years: a miracle. Zechariah, who was a priest at the temple in Jerusalem, was selected to enter a very special area of the temple called the Holy Place to light the incense before the Lord. But when he entered an angel appeared to him and said that Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, would at last have a child, and this child would have a unique calling. He would prepare the nation of Israel for the arrival of the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, who had been promised hundreds of years before. That episode then concludes with a remark telling us Elizabeth kept her pregnancy hidden for five months.
But then we come to the scene we just read today. We are now told it is the sixth month. The sixth month of what? Not the year. The context tells us it is the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. So, adjust yourself to this moment. The whispers of the story about Zechariah and the appearance of an angel have been buzzing through Israel. Now, folks are looking at the tummy of the elderly Elizabeth in utter astonishment. “Are you pregnant?” they ask in disbelief. They say, “I have never heard of anything like this…well, except for the ancient story of our forefather Abraham and his wife Sarah.” So, this nation that has sat in silence for hundreds of years, waiting, is now beginning to feel the tremors of change begin to shake their streets. And now, as we turn to Mary, another quake. God is on the move in Israel.
An angel appears to a young woman named Mary. Again, it is the angel named Gabriel. He is sent to deliver a nearly incredible message to Mary. Gabriel greets Mary and says that God is with her. He says that she has found grace with God. How does she take this news? You might expect her to be encouraged or flattered, but her response is telling. When she hears this word, she is troubled. The sense of the original Greek here is that she begins to have an intense conversation in her head, trying to figure out what on earth this word from the angel could mean. We have no access to that inner monologue, but we can surmise that she must have known enough about the God of Israel, YHWH, that she knew God-with-her could mean any number of things. But Gabriel speaks a word of comfort and says not to fear. He says that, but what he says next will change Mary and all of history forever. He says that Mary will soon be pregnant and have a son. His name will be Jesus. Ok, so far, so good. This story sounds similar to the one we just read last week about Zechariah and Elizabeth. But what the angel Gabriel says next is unlike any birth announcement ever spoken before or since. Gabriel says that this Jesus will be “great.” He will be called “Son of the Most High.” He will receive from the Lord God the “throne of…David.” He will “reign over the house of Jacob forever,” and “of his kingdom there will be no end”.
With the history-shattering bass note of this pronouncement still rumbling through the air, Mary then responds with a question that is so sweet and innocent it glows with authenticity. She asks how will this be for she is a virgin. The heart behind her question was most likely curiosity, not doubt, because Gabriel does not rebuke her for questioning the plan. He simply explains that she will not become pregnant by normal means. Rather, the Holy Spirit of God will cause her to conceive.
Now, let me pause here for a second. At this point in the story, many modern people struggle with the idea of a virgin birth. Even Christians struggle with the idea. Now, I certainly do not pretend to have an answer to all your questions here, but let me just underscore two things here. First, consider Mary’s response. Mary’s response is our response. Mary herself expresses our same unsureness. “How can this be?” she asks. The struggle to comprehend supernatural events is not a particularly a 21st Century problem. It’s an every-century problem. So, if you are wondering how this could be, you are in good company. But second, notice how Gabriel responds. He simply says God will do this, and then he points to another supernatural occurrence; he points to Mary’s elderly relative, Elizabeth, who is now six months pregnant, and Gabriel says, “Nothing will be impossible with God.” So, essentially, how Gabriel encourages us is to consider the power of God and the presence of miracles (things that most people will allow), and to then extrapolate that surely nothing is impossible for God, and he can cause Mary to conceive, even in her virginity. Then, with that, Mary accepts the word, and Gabriel departs.
So that is the story for today, the story of the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel. But now let’s return to our original question: Where is Jesus from? In this scene, we learn several very important details about where Jesus is from, details that will tell us a great deal about who Jesus is and why he matters. So, where is Jesus from?
Jesus is from the house of David
In verse 27, we are told that the earthly father of Jesus will be a man by the name of Joseph. This is just like our custom today, where the household is typically tracked back along the lines of the father. So, for example, my last name is Griz because my father’s last name is Griz, and now my family is the Griz Family. In the same way, the line of Jesus followed the line of his earthly father, Joseph. And who was Joseph? To what family did Joseph belong? We are told that Joseph was “of the house of David” (v. 27). In other words, Joseph was a descendant of David. Now, who is David and why does that matter?
David was the first true King of Israel. I cannot go into much detail, but briefly, the backstory of King David and monarchy is this. To bless this broken world, God raised up a new people, Israel, and they were to bless this world by being a new embassy on earth of his heavenly kingdom. They were to re-establish on earth the ways of God. To help them, God provided them with leaders. David was one of those leaders. But what became apparent in the history Israel and in the life of David was they couldn’t do it. But God’s plan to renew this world would not be thwarted, and he promised he would raise up another leader who would be perfect, who would finish what God started, who would bring salvation and healing and hope. And in particular, God promised David that this person, who became known as the Messiah (the chosen one), would come from the descendants of David and would sit on the throne of David. The Messiah, the chosen one, the Savior of Israel and all of the world would be a descendant of David and would sit on the throne of David.
So where is Jesus from? He is from the house of David. He is a descendant, the descendant of David. The angel Gabriel says, “…the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David…” (v. 32).
Where is Jesus from? So, on the earthly side, he is royalty, but we are also told…
Jesus is from God
In the passage we just read, this point is stressed twice. First, Gabriel says, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” “Son of the Most High”? What does that mean? Well, if you were to search your ESV Bible for that phrase “Most High,” you would first see it appear right alongside the name of God. For example, in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis, a man by the name of Melchizedek blesses Abram (i.e., Abraham), saying “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth…” (Genesis 14:19). If you were to keep reading through the Old Testament you would see that that phrase “God Most High” elides to simply “Most High.” So, who is “the Most High”? God. Jesus will be the Son of the Most High, namely, God.
Gabriel stresses this a second time in verse 35, but this time he connects it to how Jesus is conceived. Gabriel says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” Thus, the virgin birth is not just some fanciful or gratuitous detail of the story, but rather, it is closely connected to where Jesus is from and therefore who Jesus is. Where is Jesus from? He is from the Most High. He is from God. He will be called the Son of God.
So now at this point, as we consider where Jesus is from, we have a striking picture. He is from the house of David. He is the rightful heir to the throne, the promised one. Jesus is also from God. He is born of the Holy Spirit. He is the Son of the Most High, the Son of God. And yet, there are details about where Jesus is from that Luke reveals that we cannot miss. Details that almost…just almost…contradict what we just read. And these details are so important to understanding who Jesus is. Where is Jesus from? He is from the house of David, and he is from God. But he is also from Nazareth.
Jesus is from Nazareth
How does this section begin? Luke tells us, “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth…” (v. 26). Jesus is from Nazareth. Now, let me be careful here. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. But his folks were from Nazareth and he grew up in Nazareth. In fact, he was called “Jesus of Nazareth” (e.g., Mark 10:47).
Ok, so let’s talk about Nazareth for a second. Nazareth is Timbuktu. Nazareth is the sticks, the boonies, the backwoods, the hinterlands. Nazareth is nowheresville. It is this little town about 70 miles northeast of the capital city, Jerusalem (Geldenhuys, 1959). But nobody outside that immediate area…even in the first century…really knew where Nazareth was. It was away the main trade routes (Gaebelein, 1984); it was literally “off the beaten path.” That’s probably why Luke adds the detail “of Galilee” (Bock, 1994). Because Luke knows his readers are going to say, “Nazareth. Where’s that?” So he says, you know…of Galilee…just like we might add a county to our reckoning of a little town in Tennessee. So, Nazareth was this tiny, remote town north of Jerusalem in the region of Galilee. It had maybe 1600-2000 residents (Keener, 1993). In the Gospel of John, John records a scene where a man named Philip runs up to his friend Nathanael and says, “We’ve found the Messiah. He’s from Nazareth.” And Nathanael, who is from Cana, a nearby town in Galilee (see John 21:2), immediately says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46)? So that’s Nazareth.
Where is Jesus from? Jesus is from Nazareth…little, backwoods, nowheresville Nazareth. And there is one other detail Luke gives us here. Where is Jesus from?
Jesus is from Mary.
I know that you know that. But I want to make a distinction here. When we think of Mary, we often think about the “Virgin Mary.” That is, we picture a saint. We think of the Mary portrayed in statues and paintings. But that is not the Mary we meet here. Who is the Mary that Luke introduces us to? The Mary we meet is a young girl from Nazareth. She is engaged to a man named Joseph, and because of what we know about the tradition of engagement from this time period, we know she is probably no older 15, and more likely, she is 13 (Stein, 1993, cf. Keener, 1993; Bock, 1996; Gaebelein, 1984). Mary is a young, teenaged girl from a small, rural town in the county. A young teenager.
I don’t know what you were doing when you were a young teenager, but I can tell you what I was doing: not much. I don’t know how mature you were when you were a young teenager, but I can tell you how mature I was: not very. I don’t know how much you had accomplished or figured out or earned by the time you were a young teenager, but I can tell you how much I had accomplished and figured out and earned by the time I was a young teenager: next to nothing. Mary was just a young teenager.
There’s this great scene in the Sound of Music where a group of nuns are singing about heroine of the movie, Maria. She is giving them fits. She is all over the place. And so, as you do in musicals, they sing, “How do you saw a problem like Maria?” Then there is this poignant moment in the song when they’re rattling off all the tensions that are Maria. They say she’s as “unpredictable as weather,” “She is flighty as a feather,” “She’s a darling,” “She’s a demon,” and finally, the wise Mother of the convent sings “she’s a girl…” The other nuns want her to be so many things, but for now, she is just a young girl. Friends, the mother of our Lord, Jesus was just a young girl. Where was Jesus from? Jesus was from a young, teenaged girl named Mary.
Now put all of these details together. Where is Jesus from and what does this tell us about who he is?
Jesus is MIGHTY and LOWLY
Jesus is from the house of David. He is from the royal line. He can fulfill the promise that a great king would rise up from the house of David. Jesus is heir to the throne. He is the rightful King. Jesus is from God. He is holy and perfect, powerful and awesome. He is the Son of the most high. He is the Son of God. He will reign forever. His kingdom will have no end. And yet, Jesus is from Nazareth, nowheresville, a backwoods town in Galilee. Jesus is from Mary, a young teenager. This is where Jesus is from. So, then, what does this tell us about who Jesus is? It tells us…
Jesus is Mighty. The rescue we long for is in this child we remember at Christmas. As I prepared this week, I could not help but think of all the stories we tell that echo this longing for the true king to arrive. In Robinhood, they await the return of King Richard, the true King of England. In the Sword and the Stone, they are awaiting someone who can remove the sword in the stone and thus confirm they are the rightful King. In the Matrix, they are looking for “the one.” In Star Wars, it is the return of the Jedi. In Lord of the Rings, they too are awaiting the return of the King. It seems that we all know we need someone who has the authority and the power to set things right. And Luke tells us this morning that that person is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, the Son of God. He is the rightful King, and he has been given the power and authority to set things right. And as we will see as we continue to study the Gospel of Luke, he does indeed have the authority and power. With a word, he will rebuke demons, and they will flee. With a word, he will quiet storms, and the waves will still. With a word, he will tell the disabled to get up, and they will leap for joy. With a word, he will forgive sins, and they will be forgiven. With a word, he will reach across death and say to a little girl who has died in her sleep, “Darling, it’s time to get up,” and she will awake from death and get up. Jesus is Mighty. He is the king, the Son of God.
Jesus is Lowly. I think one of the most amazing sentences in this whole story is the first one: “ In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.” From the royal courts of heaven (cf. Luke 1:19) to the dusty streets of Nazareth, from the side of God Most High to the side of a teenager named Mary. Friends, our High King, our deliverer, has not asked us to climb to heaven. He has come down. He has entered our backstreets and alleyways. He has entered our anonymous stories. He has borne our grief and carried our burdens. He has drawn near to the brokenhearted. He has entered the ashes. Our great, high King humbled himself. He placed his royal robes to the side and put on the clothes of a servant, that he might bring salvation near. Jesus is mighty, a great high King, the holy Son of God, but he is lowly, a Nazarene, the child of a smalltown girl. And that makes him like none other and the salvation he offers like no other.
And so, as we conclude this morning, as you travel home, as you return to work and school tomorrow…
Look for the King in the backwoods of your life. I want to encourage you to see Jesus in the small and backwoods places of your own life. If our savior is lowly and humble, and if our God brings his King and his Kingdom reign in these backdoor ways, could it be that our King and his Kingdom are still found in these places? Maybe you were looking for hope in the powerful institutions of this world, but maybe God is bringing his kingdom through the weak and the anonymous. Maybe you thought that when you became a Christian God would make a grand entrance into your life, but maybe God is working in slow and quiet ways. Maybe you thought things would be easier and more clear at this point in your life, but God is still working in mysterious and backwoods ways. Maybe you thought the Kingdom would be more respectable…it would belong to scholars and receive a fair hearing in the public square…but maybe it moves forward in little country churches and in middle school gymnasiums. Maybe you thought the Kingdom of God would arrive with health and vigor, but maybe it is arriving through your illness. Maybe you thought his Kingdom would increase through your successes, but maybe it is arriving in your failures…your too-small house, your job loss, your car wreck. Maybe you thought the Kingdom would come through perfect, pristine churches, but maybe it comes through broken, messy, everyday churches. Maybe you thought you would find the story of life in great works of philosophy, but instead it is in this old book. Maybe you have been looking for the King and his Kingdom in all the wrong places.
Submit to the true and good King. But make no mistake, it’s going to be good…because he who comes is the King. And though his ways are often lowly and slowly and mysterious, His ways are sure and steady and unstoppable and good and everlasting. And one day we will all appear before this King, Jesus. So let our response be that of Mary. Oh, how much she did not understand. How much she would have to endure. The mysteries, the accusations, the loss, the grief, and yet, what did she do? She humbled herself, and she submitted herself to the Lord, knowing he was the true and good King. She said the only right thing to say to the King: I am your servant. Friends, will you do just that today? Will you say to the Lord, “I am your servant”? Will you trust God today? Will you humble yourself before Jesus? There is no one greater, and yet he is humble and near. And by his power and authority, through his humility and nearness, He offers you forgiveness and rescue you. Will you submit yourself to him as a servant who has nothing to fear?
Let us bow before him now in prayer.