This much is clear: The Annunciation has been good to Nazareth.
In Mary’s day, it was a sleepy little Galilean village.
Today, Nazareth bustles with the “Incarnation trade” – a city of 70,000 people, its streets crowded with cars, trucks, motorbikes. And pilgrimage busses. Tons and tons of busses. Virtually all of them headed toward the Basilica of the Annunciation.
It’s a big, beautiful church. And oddly, in some respects, unapproachable. I tried in vain to capture a photographic image of the building…but it’s simply too big to frame from any of its street-level approaches. Now, maybe if I’d had a drone…
Deep inside the basilica is its raison-d’être – the grotto in which the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Curiously, it’s behind bars. Pilgrims can pause briefly to snap a photo, or whisper a prayer of gratitude. But then, you’re shushed along quite unceremoniously. Gotta keep the line moving.
Inside the church and out, walls are adorned with beautiful renderings of the Madonna – most of them reflecting the cultural and artistic traditions of the dozens of countries from which they came. A stunning array of religious art, really: Hearts poured out in tribute to Mary’s “yes!” – a remarkable response, in any language.
Beauty and majesty all around in Nazareth. And it is good for us to be here. To gather in the Basilica, we Christians, and to recall the stupefying mystery of the God who awaits our “yes”.
But it is also good for us to venture beyond the Basilica. Walk just a block up the street…and visit the Sisters of Nazareth convent.
It’s built over the ruins of a Crusader-era church. And a Byzantine-era church. Both of which were built over what remains of a first-century home.
The home, quite possibly, that Jesus and Mary and Joseph occupied for their “hidden years” in Nazareth.
There’s a different sort of beauty and majesty to be found amid the rubble here.
Real-life beauty, adorned by very little art.
The simple beauty…of simple people…doing their best to know (and follow) God’s will.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.
We were herded through the line at the Basilica almost rudely. It was hard to find it very spiritual. Not the place of “yes” but the place of “keep it moving”. The tour with the little Irish nun was much closer to Mary’s yes! Simple, humble, and easier to imagine the story unfolding in that place.