Greetings from Nazareth!
We’re in week 4 of our 9 week pilgrimage in the Holy Land and it’s been incredible so far. We’re staying with the Sisters of Nazareth whose convent is right across the street from the massive and beautiful Basilica of the Annunciation which is built over the place where tradition holds that, “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.”
In the time of Mary, the town of Nazareth was tiny, with somewhere around 200 people. Mary was likely very young at the time, maybe only 14 or 15 years old. Having an angel appear in your room at any age to tell you any piece of news from God would be somewhat terrifying, but try to put yourself in the shoes of Mary as the angel appears and drops a gigantic message: the angel “came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
“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.”
No pressure. Rightly, Mary is concerned about how she might be pregnant, given the fact she remains a virgin. Mary asks the pivotal question that has been in my mind at literally every holy site we’ve visited so far: “How can this be?”
Again, the angel with a “nbd it’s cool”: “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.”
“Nope, no thanks. Not today. I’m doing pretty good as it is, so see you later.” That’s how my response would probably look. But Mary, thanks be to God, shocks us all and responds with astonishing faith, trust, and surety: “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Later on her visit to her-likewise-pregnant cousin Elizabeth, Luke records Mary’s words which have become the prayer of so many:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
When we arrived in Nazareth, we spent the first night on the rooftop patio at the convent when a candlelight procession began outside the basilica. We could not see the procession, but for almost an hour this mostly-Muslim town was filled with the soft singing of pilgrims from every part of the globe, gathering in this town once regarded as a place of little import, to magnify the Lord and to rejoice in God the Savior who became flesh in this place.
Who would have guessed that some 2000 years from the night (or day?) when the angel appeared to a lowly 15 year old there would still be people who gather to sing “Ave Maria” – that, really, all generations might call her blessed, might recognize that the One who is mighty has done great things for us and that, above all, his name remains holy and strong trustworthy and true.
This is our time to call her blessed. This is our time to bring to the whole world the truth and life of the man named Jesus who was conceived in this place; born in Bethlehem; lived and ministered in Galilee and Judea; was crucified, died, and rose in Jerusalem; ascended to the Father and now reigns on high. He is the one whose name is blessed. He is the one who has come to save, who has conquered death and forgiven sin and who brings us, even now, into a share in his own eternal life.
When faced with these great mysteries, Mary’s response is the perfect one: “How can this be?” And yet, “Let it be to me according to your word.”