Faculty - Gordon Matties

Annunciation Goes Global in Nazareth

I’ve always marveled at the mosaics in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. They tell us in visual language the biblical story of the angel Gabriel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary Luke 1:26-38. Hearing the gospel reading in worship this morning reminded me of my many visits to that amazing church, the largest in the Middle East.

Nazareth is also famous in Luke’s gospel as Jesus’ home town, where he read his famous “manifesto” from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-29; citing Isaiah 61;1-2; 58:6).

It isn’t surprising that this same infusion of the Holy Spirit that settled on Mary (Luke 1:34) also empowered Jesus. Could it be that Jesus embraced his mission of justice after learning it from his mother? After all, her empowerment expressed itself in poetic form, imagining God as one who “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53).

On visiting the Church of the Annunciation, one is struck by the many mosaics that line the walls of the upper level of the church, and of the courtyard walls. Each mosaic depicts either the annunciation scene itself, or Mary with the infant Jesus. Each is designed as imagined by an artist from a different country. It is striking that each one reflects a cultural embodiment, suggesting that this story transcends Nazareth. God’s presence, as incarnated in Jesus, is understood as transposed into the garb and idiom of scores of nationalities and ethnicities. Here are a few of the images. Not all of these images are easily photographed, since lighting is limited and flash is not allowed. Click on each one to see the mosaic in a larger format.Japan