It’s the Lord’s Day and I miss being with my Advent family. When I am away on a Sunday, I do not feel it is a welcome break, but find myself wanting to be in Birmingham with you. Instead, I find myself on my last day in Galilee.
We (our group) headed up to Nazareth, the boyhood home of Jesus, stopping first at the Church of the Annunciation. The traditional site of Gabriel’s visitation to Mary, announcing the birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38):
It’s not a great photo, but a wall prevents one from getting far enough back to fit it in. The church is a large one and was built in the 1960’s by the Franciscans.
The modern church is built over a Byzantine church most likely, as always, established by Helena, mother of Constantine. The structure you see if part of the 4th Century church, but the main structure is a house dating back to the time of Jesus. This is the traditional site of the Annunciation.
I realize that I qualify a lot of the sites with words like ‘tradition’ or ‘believed to be,’ but it doesn’t take away one bit the awe and wonder of God’s intervening in the world through Jesus. To be in Nazareth, where we know Jesus grew up, in a fourth century church, brings a connection that is like no other. This is not meant in a superstitious sense, but again, of God’s amazing grace that he would bring something good out of nowhere Nazareth, and to be able to walk in the places the Bible speaks of is a tremendous blessing.
Here’s a look inside:
The group then made its way down through the Jordan Valley, a road Jesus took a number of times. Needless to say, the terrain changed dramatically as we moved to 1,300 feet below sea level. Still, thanks to the Jordan River, you can see the date plantations:
We arrived at the site of Jesus’ baptism after driving through stark, but beautiful terrain, including the city of Jericho, which you might be able to make out through the have in the photo above.
The baptism site has been controlled by the Greek Orthodox (all of the sites are run by a Catholic or Orthodox branch or order), but was only opened up once a year for them to celebrate Jesus’ baptism. The reason is because it is right on the Jordanian border and the area is plagued with conflict. In 2014, after a campaign by many church leaders, the Israeli government opened up the site year round.
This is the site. The folks in the foreground are in Israel (or the West Bank of Palestinian controlled territory), and the folks in the top of the photo are in Jordan.
I realize I have not been in any pictures (and I like it that way), but here’s to prove I was there.
One of the things I was impressed by at this site was the devotion of the other pilgrims from other groups. People from all over the world come to the site, but I did not see tourists, but believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. My time at this place was one of the more moving moments because of the witness of believers to the one who underwent baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3).
I am excited about the conference that begins tomorrow. I have already run into a number of old friends, dining tonight with Ashley Null (a friend of the Advent and Cranmer scholar) and Stephen Noll (he is the former vice-chancellor of Uganda Christian University and a faithful man—his daughter and I were interns together over 20 years ago!), some I was in theological college with at Oxford, and lots of Australian friends.
The 2,000 that are here are spread out amongst a number of hotels, but we will all be gathered tomorrow at the convention center here in Jerusalem Please do pray for us.