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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

France

Brazil

Australia

Cameroon

Italy

Mexico

Thailand

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/annunciation-goes-global-in-nazareth.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

When Was Jesus Born?

Photo Creative Commons License Tamer Shabaneh.

The other day I was listening to the The Blind Boys of Alabama Christmas CD (Go Tell it On the Mountain). The song “When Was Jesus Born” struck me as worth commenting on during Advent (please do read to the end to watch the video). The fact is, shepherds were not tending their sheep in Bethlehem’s “fields” in late December (“the last month of the year,” as the song goes) but in summer or into September, some time after the grain harvest in April and May (Luke 2:8-10). Flocks simply wouldn’t have been allowed in the fields until then. And that reminds me that we will be visiting the Shepherds’ Fields in Beit Sahour, just outside Bethlehem, on May 1, 2010 (our first day on the ground). Although one website I read recently claimed Jesus was born on September 29, 05 B.C., it could have been May. So perhaps we’ll celebrate with the shepherds and the angels that day.

I have a wonderful memory of one of my visits to that site (Christmas, 1991). There’s a beautiful chapel at the Franciscan site. It was designed by the Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi in 1954 (more on his work in another blog posting). As we were leaving the site, we heard a group inside the chapel singing the old standby, “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Our daughter, 3 years old at the time, on hearing the chorus “Gloria in excelsis deo,” asked, “Mommy, where are the angels?”

“Tradition”locates the Shepherds’ Fields in least two places, one run by the Greek Orthodox and the other by the Franciscans. As one looks around the village of Beit Sahour, one realizes that the entire region surrounding Bethlehem would have been cultivated in grain. Remember the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz? David Roberts’ lithograph (1842) presents that image well. CLICK HERE to locate the shepherds’ fields on an interactive map of the Bethlehem region.

So whatever the date (let’s say some time in summer), the song “When Was Jesus Born” is still worth listening to. You can hear the crystal clear version sung by the Stars of Faith, with Marion Williams singing lead (video version here). I like the raucous Winans’ version set in the context of a Christmas party. Best of all is this video of the Blind Boys of Alabama stealing the show from a very staid Christmas Pageant.

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/when-was-jesus-born.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

King Herod in Bethlehem and Beyond

Thinking about Bethlehem during Advent reminds us of King Herod, whose tomb was discovered in 2007 just outside the city at the fortress called Herodium. I was pleased to be able to see it for the first time when I led the Ancient Stones, Living Stones tour in the spring of 2008.

Of course Herod and Bethlehem are related to one another in several texts, particularly in Matthew’s gospel. Herod appears in the story of the Magi’s visit (2:1-12) and in the story of the massacre of the infants (2:16-18). These stories remind us of what Matthew’s gospel is doing with the notion of power. Herod, for Matthew, stands in for Pharaoh of the Exodus story. Matthew’s gospel even tells us that Mary’s and Joseph’s escape with baby Jesus is an ironic escape to Egypt because Herod is looking to kill him. Matthew explains the irony by quoting the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matt 2:15; Hosea 11:1). The Magi, of course, want to pay “homage” to this new king. The Greek word for “homage” appears three times in Matt 2:1-12, and thirteen times in all in Matthew’s gospel (and by comparison not many times in other gospels). Another way of rendering the word “homage” is “worship.” Matthew has an agenda. Jesus is the object of worship, of homage, not Herod, nor any other power (cf. 4:9).

Looking at Herod’s tomb at the Herodium reminds us of power gone awry. During this tour we will visit at least five of Herod’s massive building projects (Herodium, Masada, Temple Mount, Hebron Sanctuary of the Ancestors, and Caesarea by the sea). According to Matthew, King Jesus is building a kingdom whose evidence is discerned in a new community concerned with justice and peace, not in grand stone structures (Matt 16:19).

Read this recent National Geographic article on “King Herod Revealed.” Don’t miss the Photo Gallery by Michael Melford, and the King Herod quiz!

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/king-herod-in-bethlehem-and-beyond.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Banksy in Bethlehem


The first time I entered Bethlehem after the separation barrier had been built, I felt as though I were imprisoned. Unless one stays inside an air-conditioned bus, the massive guard tower and the eight meter high wall (see the photo on a previous blog post) make it impossible to avoid that experience. Tourists are easily whisked into Manger Square for the requisite visit to the Church of the Nativity. But I like my groups to linger for a while. By staying in Bethlehem for four nights, we’ll be able to have a richer experience.

One of the blessings of a longer stay is the opportunity to see some of the graffiti art on the separation barrier. The most prominent pieces are those painted by Banksy, a “quasi-anonymous British graffiti artist” (Wikipedia). In 2005 Banksy painted nine images on the wall. Some of those, like the one of the little girl frisking a soldier at a security checkpoint, can be seen on the side of a building in Behlehem. I took that picture in 2006.Here are a few more:

Hole in the wall:
Let’s climb over?

Imagining a paradise:

Of course others are also adding variety:

We can only imagine what it must be like for ordinary people to face that wall every day. This house in Bethlehem is surrounded on three sides by the separation wall.

Banksy’s graffiti art offers a slightly hopeful imagination, even if terribly ironic, to those who must live with this constant reminder that their only hope for freedom of movement is emigration.

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/bansky-in-bethlehem.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Sinai: A Separate Peace

The March 2009 issue of National Geographic has a fine article: “Sinai: A Separate Peace.” Amid a sea of conflict, the Sinai offers pleasure, spiritual refuge, and—potentially—harmony. Here’s a paragraph to whet your appetite for reading the whole article.

“For millennia the Sinai Peninsula has served as a bridge. A land bridge for people moving from one continent to another, yes, but also a metaphysical bridge between man and God. The forebears of the three great monotheistic religions are all said to have sought refuge in this triangular desert. According to the Bible, Moses received his assignment in Sinai when God spoke to him from the burning bush, then wandered the desert with his people for 40 years. As a child, Jesus and his family fled into Sinai to escape a jealous King Herod’s wrath. Early Christians hid from Roman persecutors among the peninsula’s lonely mountains, establishing some of the first monastic communities.”

Do not miss having a look at this very fine MAP, and a Photo Gallery by Matt Moyer. The photos and the article depict Sinai in all its contradictions, hosting both ancient traditions and modern indulgences. CLICK HERE for a printer ready version of the article (without page breaks).

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/sinai-separate-peace.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Approaching Bethlehem in Advent

A Canadian Mennonite University Study Tour
April 26 – May 17, 2012

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/approaching-bethlehem-advent-20009.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Who Owns the Holy Land?

A Canadian Mennonite University Study Tour
April 26 – May 17, 2012

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/who-owns-holy-land.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Pool of Siloam Discovered

, this pool is one of the top ten archaeological discoveries related to the Bible. According to the Biblical Archaeology Review, “Traditionally, the site was believed to be the pool and church that were built by the Byzantine empress Eudocia (c. 400–460 A.D.) to commemorate the miracle recounted in the New Testament. However, the exact location of the pool itself as it existed during the time of Jesus remained a mystery until June 2004. During construction work to repair a large water pipe south of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, on the ridge known as the City of David, archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron identified two ancient stone steps. Further excavation revealed that they were part of a monumental pool from the Second Temple period, the period in which Jesus lived. The structure Reich and Shukron discovered was 225 feet long, with corners that are slightly greater than 90 degrees, indicating a trapezoidal shape, with the widening end oriented toward Tyropoeon valley. The pool is adjacent to the area in the ancient City of David known as the King’s Garden, and is just southeast of the remains of the fifth-century church and pool originally believed to be the sacred site.

The pool is fed by waters from the Gihon Spring, located in the Kidron Valley. As with many sites in the Holy Land, the origins of the Siloam Pool reach back even further in history—at least seven centuries before the time of Jesus. Judah’s King Hezekiah (late eighth century B.C.) correctly anticipated a siege against Jerusalem by the Assyrian monarch Sennacherib. To protect the city’s water supply during the siege, Hezekiah undertook a strategic engineering project that would be an impressive feat in any age: He ordered the digging of a 1,750-foot tunnel under the City of David to bring water from the Gihon Spring, which lay outside the city wall, inside the city to a pool on the opposite side of the ridge. In the years that followed, “Hezekiah’s Tunnel” continued to carry fresh water to this section of Jerusalem, and different pools were built here over the centuries, including the Second Temple pool that Jesus knew.”

To have a look at more pictures and articles on the Pool of Siloam, CLICK HERE to go to the BiblePlaces website.

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/12/pool-of-siloam-discovered.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Elias Chacour’s "Blood Brothers"

In previous tours I’ve been privileged to hear Abuna (Father) Elias Chacour speak to my groups. Now that he has been appointed Archbishop of the Melkite Church, he doesn’t have as much time to greet groups as he did in years past. If we don’t have an audience with him, we will certainly meet others in the community of the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEII) who can speak about the joys and challenges of bringing quality education to the Palestinian community in Israel. If the term “Melkite” is puzzling to you, look for a future post in which I suggest ways you might familiarize yourself with the various Christian communities in the Holy Land. The MEII website provides this brief biography of Abuna Chacour:

“Elias Chacour was born November 29, 1939 in the village of Biram in Upper Galilee in Arab Palestine to a Palestinian Christian family, members of the Melkite Catholic Church, an Eastern Byzantine Church in communion with Rome.

At the age of eight years, he experienced the tragedy of his people. He was evicted, along with his whole village, by the Israeli authorities and became a deportee and a refugee in his own country, the Palestine of his birth. Because he remained in the country of his forefathers, he was granted citizenship of Israel when the state of Israel was created in 1948.

Father Elias Chacour came to Ibillin as a young priest in 1965. He quickly saw the lack of educational opportunities for Palestinian youth beyond the 8th grade. A vision of a school for all the children of Israel began to take shape in his mind. Today, this vision has become a reality in the village of Ibillin, Galilee.

In the early 1980s, on an empty hillside now known as the Mount of Light, a classroom building was begun. The newly formed high school moved from temporary quarters in the community center to the new building as soon as it was ready. The original High School has expended considerably, and the history and background speaks of the expansion on the Mount of Light.

Father Chacour has become an ambassador for non-violence and someone, who not only preaches, but lives the Sermon on the Mount. He travels very often between the Middle East and other countries around the world. In addition, hundreds of groups of visitors, fact-finding missions, and pilgrims have visited and continue to visit with him in Ibillin. He has received many International peace awards and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on three occasions. On March 10th, 1994 , Father Elias Chacour received the prestigious World Methodist Peace Award that has been presented in the past to such pilgrims for peace as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the late Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat. On Feb 19th, 2001, Abuna was announced to be the recipient of the Niwano Peace Prize.

Abuna (Arabic for Father, the affectionate and respectful term given to their priests) is the author of two “best selling” books, Blood Brothers and We Belong to the Land.”

I am recommending that all tour participants read Blood Brothers. Whet your appetite by reading the first 95 pages (CLICK HERE for the pdf file), and then order the book from your local bookstore or online. Amazon.ca or Amazon.com

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/11/elias-chacours-blood-brothers.html

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Faculty - Gordon Matties

Climbing Mt. Sinai

A Canadian Mennonite University Study Tour
April 26 – May 17, 2012

Article source: http://cmustudytour.blogspot.com/2009/11/climbing-mt-sinai.html