Summary: This message focuses on the Biblical history that surrounds the birth event of Christ
Mary of Nazareth
Just about everyone in the world has heard something about the Christmas Story. Almost everyone knows that … along with Santa Clause, Christmas trees, and songs about Decking Halls with Holly … there is a back story. And the back story involves a baby and a manger.
You know the locale – a manger in Bethlehem. You know the cast of characters – Mary and Joseph, the angels and shepherds, the wise men and King Herod. You may know the plot details – the census, the long journey, the over-crowded inn.
But there is much more to the Christmas story that meets the eye. For the next 4 Sundays we’re going to take a close look at the Christmas story. We’ll examine what actually happened historically … over 2000 years ago on the other side of the planet. We’ll look at what this story teaches us about God’s Character and Purposes. We’ll see what the story means for our lives today.
We’ll start by looking at Mary’s Home-town.
1. Mary’s Town
Luke 1:26-27 starts the story with these words: God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.
Nazareth was not a hot spot in Galilee. It was an insignificant little town with a population of around 200 farmers, shepherds, and manual laborers. The hot spot was Sepphoris – a thriving city of over 30,000 including wealthy merchants who lived in luxury villas.
How many of you have heard of Sepphoris? We’ve all heard of the little nothing village of Nazareth. Why? Because Nazareth was Mary’s hometown … and Nazareth became the hometown for Jesus. In fact, Jesus and his followers were called “Nazarenes.” This was an insult. It was a way of saying, “You’re nobody from nowhere.”
You may remember when Phillip told his friend Nathanael about Jesus … Nathanael’s response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” If Nazareth had any reputation at all, it was a bad one!
But God chose this insignificant little town to fulfill His greatest work on earth. That tells us something about how God works. He chooses the most out-of-the way places, the most insignificant people, the most unexpected methods to accomplish his purposes.
Paul expanded on this in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: "Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him."
God often chooses to work quietly behind the scenes. No one but Mary knew anything of import was happening that day in Nazareth. As far as everyone else was concerned, life was going along as it had been for many years.
The Romans ruled the world. They had placed King Herod … the most ruthless and godless of rulers … over the region. There was tyranny and corruption from the top of the government to the bottom. Even the High Priest collaborated with the Romans for personal gain.
The political and social situation in Israel looked hopeless. No one but Mary knew God was beginning to build his earth-shattering Eternal Kingdom … in a little village out in the middle of nowhere.
It’s often true that you can find hidden layers of meaning in God’s actions. It turns out that the name “Nazareth” has prophetic significance.
“Nazareth” comes from the Hebrew “netzer” which means “branch” or “shoot.” Sometimes a “shoot” will grow from the stump of a tree that has been chopped down. That shoot or single branch is called a “netzer.”
In Old Testament prophecy, the Messiah is sometimes pictured as a “branch” or “shoot.” Look at Isaiah 11:4 “A shoot shall come up from the stump of Jesse (Jesse was King David’s father), and a branch (netzer) shall grow out of his roots…”
And so, in God’s surprising plan, the hometown of the long-awaited Messiah --- the “branch” or “netzer” --- would be a town called “the branch” or Nazareth. Gabriel came from heaven to Nazareth and delivered an amazing message to a descendent of Jesse – and David – a young virgin named Mary.
2. Mary’s Message
The angel went to Mary and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1:28
You might remember that Gabriel is the same angel who appeared to Daniel in the Old Testament. (We just finished a series from the book of Daniel a couple of weeks ago.) When Gabriel appeared to Daniel, he gave a similar greeting. Gabriel said he had been sent with a message for Daniel because “you are highly esteemed.”