The Mount of Temptation

After visiting the Jordan River on the second full day of the pilgrimage, we headed over to Jericho. Jericho is an ancient city, mentioned early on in the Old Testament, just after Joshua brought the Israelites into the Promised Land. Today, Jericho is in the West Bank and has been under control of the Palestinian Authority since 1994. Pilgrims on our trip who had been to Jericho before mentioned that the city has deteriorated since the last time they had been there a few years before.

a sycamore tree in Jericho
a sycamore tree in Jericho

We stopped in Jericho to remember Zaccheus, a vertically-challenged tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus as he passed by. Jesus saw Zaccheus and stayed at his house, dining with him. Zaccheus repented of his sins and promised to give back the money he had taken dishonestly.

After lunch (yes, shawarma! But it did come with fries this time), we headed over to the Mount of Temptation IMG_0520just on the outskirts of Jericho. This is the traditional site where Jesus was tempted the third time by the devil toward the end of his 40 days and 40 nights fasting in the wilderness of the Judean desert, right after he was baptized in the Jordan by John.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.  Matthew 4:8-11

We don’t know for sure that this is the exact spot where the devil brought Jesus, but considering the geography of the area, it is a likely contender.

Caves adjacent to the Mount of Temptation
Caves adjacent to the Mount of Temptation

There are many caves around the mountains. On the Wikipedia page for Mount of Temptation, it says that when Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena went to the Holy Land in the 300’s AD to search for relics and holy places of Christ, she identified this spot as the Mount of Temptation (she also had the Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Holy Sepulcre built and claimed to have found the real cross of Christ). Today, at the top there is an Orthodox monastery carved right into the side of the mountain.

Jesus is often called the new Adam. Adam was made in the image of God, perfect. When he was tempted by the devil in the Garden of Eden, he succumbed to temptation (the temptation to be like God) and fell into sin. Since then, each human has been born with the sin of Adam, passed down. Jesus was born without sin, though he would take on the sins of the world. He came to fulfill the Law in our stead. The devil started in on him, not when he was strong and protected like Adam, but when he was weak, thirsty, and starving. But Jesus did not succumb. He did what Adam could not do; he resisted temptation.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4:15

There are two ways up the mountain, one on a cable car,IMG_0522 the other one a hike up to the top. Being “true pilgrims,” (see the movie “The Way”) a group of us hiked.  A beautiful view rewarded us for our effort.  (I consider it to be the second hike of the new Gloria Dei hiking club.)  The hike was not too strenuous, and the monastery at the top had a beautiful chapel.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to stay a few days in this monastery and pray?

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View from the top of the Mount of Temptation

 

 

 

 

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Monastery of the Temptation cross
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The monastery is built into the mountain
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beautiful ceiling in the chapel
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This is an interesting mural. Jesus is holding up three fingers, maybe because Jesus was tempted three times by the Devil, and the third was on the Mount of Temptation. He is holding a scroll in his other hand. Just a guess, but perhaps it is meant to represent how Jesus defeated the Devil–by using God’s Word

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The Lord is My Portion

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”   Lamentations 3:22-24

IMG_1528I have recently decided to leave my job as a per diem hospice nurse.  It was a hard decision, because I truly do love taking care of the dying, but I think it is right for me and for my family.

I have learned a lot being a hospice nurse, so I decided to write a list of some of the things I have learned.

  • I have learned that everybody should have a plan for what they are going to do when they can’t take care of themselves, because it can sneak up on you awfully quickly.
  • I have learned that Medicare pays 100% for hospice, but it pays 0% for nursing homes.
  • I have learned how selfless some people can be in caregiving for years and years with few breaks.
  • I have learned that morphine really is a very good drug for relieving pain and shortness of breath.
  • I have also learned that morphine causes constipation.
  • I have witnessed first hand that having tube feeding going full swing on someone who is dying is a recipe for a bad death.
  • I have learned that every human being has grace and dignity, even when they are at their most helpless, and we must always treat them as the unique person that they are.
  • I have also learned that death is messy and smelly, and doesn’t always bring out the best in people.
  • I have learned that when family members are angry at me, it’s not really me they’re angry at.
  • I have learned that miraculous recoveries are quite rare, but that God is present even in, especially in, the suffering.
  • I have learned that most people, whether they are religious or not religious, die pretty much the same way that they lived.

Every time I have been there when someone has died, I say the Lord’s Prayer, silently in my heart, as their soul departs this earth.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”

Hospice nursing has been wonderful for me, but I see new opportunities for myself on the horizon, whether it is volunteering again at the pregnancy center or starting a new mercy ministry at church, being able to bake artisan bread at home again, being able to sew, helping my son work through his Boy Scout Eagle project, writing, and who knows what.  It’s exciting and also a little scary too.  But “the Lord is my portion,” and one thing that I have most definitely learned in my 39 years of life is that God never stops bringing people into our lives that need our help.  I can’t imagine that I’ll be bored.

Coming soon: The Mount of Temptation

The Jordan River

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”  Matthew 3:13-17

The Jordan River starts somewhere north of the Sea of Galilee, when it combines into one from several tributaries.  It empties into the Dead Sea, which is below sea level. The Jordan is the main water source for the Dead Sea and forms the border between Israel and Jordan.  We first visited the Jordan River in the West Bank, just to the east of Jericho, on the second full day of the pilgrimage. We were warned by our guide not to touch the water, as it is now polluted, and no baptisms occur in this area.  There is also a mine field off the Jordan River from the Six Day War in 1967.  Later in the pilgrimage, we visited the Jordan River one more time just south of the Sea of Galilee, but there the water was very clean and clear.

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The Jordan River near Jericho
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The Jordan River near Galilee
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Why was Jesus baptized?

Of course we know that baptism is a bit of a contentious issue in the church nowadays; this is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Historically, baptism has been regarded as a sacrament since the Church began, and most denominations still do count it as such.  (Only the Baptists, Anabaptists, and some Wesleyans regard it as an ordinance, a command, but having no power to forgive sins. “The Lutheran Difference,” CPH, 2003.)

When Jesus was baptized, as the Lutheran Service Book says, He “sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.”  John was not baptizing for the washing away of sins but for repentance, preparing the way for Jesus. Jesus instituted and commanded a new baptism: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  The New Testament epistles also have a lot of baptismal language.  Paul says in Titus that God has saved us “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.”  And then in Romans,  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Peter is bold and clear in his epistle to say that “Baptism…now saves you…”  And there are other passages (see Luther’s Small Catechism).

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Plaques near the Jordan in Galilee
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Mine Field warning near Jericho
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Cute kitty near the Jordan in Galilee

Because of God’s promises, I find joy in every baptism that I witness, whether baby or adult.  God is making this person a Christian–He is washing away sins, creating and sustaining faith, and bringing him or her into a community of believers, all without any merit or effort on their part.  It is a beautiful thing to see God’s mercy at work in such an ordinary thing as water mixed with His Word. God’s joy is in nourishing us with the ordinary.

My son was baptized on August 13, 2000, and my daughter was baptized on March 2, 2003.  Those two days are the most important days of their lives.  Now, every time they hear “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” they remember that they are baptized.  Whenever they have doubts or are grieved by sins, they remember that they are baptized.  God does not abandon His people–the faith that He creates, He also nurtures–through parents, through pastors, through the Word, and especially through His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper.

Martin Luther wrote in the Large Catechism, “(Baptism) is nothing other than putting to death the old Adam and effecting the new man’s resurrection after that.  Both of these things must take place in us all our lives.  So a truly Christian life is nothing other than a daily Baptism, once begun and ever to be continued.”

The Jordan River in Israel was pretty unremarkable as far as rivers go. Yet it was the site where Jesus started His ministry and began the work of saving us all. His joy is in nourishing us with the ordinary and unremarkable. God’s love for us, however, is anything but ordinary.
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” 1 John 3:1

“Christmas” in Bethlehem

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After Ein Karem, we went on to Bethlehem, also known in the Bible as the City of David.  The first thing we learned about Bethlehem was that there is politics involved, as Bethlehem is currently under control of the Palestinian Authority, though quite adjacent to Jerusalem.  Therefore, Bethlehem is surrounded by walls. IMG_0281 Several years ago, Israel was having trouble with radical Palestinians coming into Israel and using suicide vests to terrorize and kill civilians.  They would also shoot guns across the valley into apartment homes on the Israeli side.  Children were killed. So the walls were built, and now you must cross through a checkpoint to get into and out of Bethlehem.  Happily, our guide Rolley was able to enter Bethlehem with us this time.  Rolley is Jewish by conversion so in past pilgrimages with our church, she wasn’t able to enter Bethlehem. However they have relaxed the rules a bit. IMG_0286

We went four places in Bethlehem: first to eat, second to the Church of the Nativity, third to the Shepherds’ Fields, and fourth to an olive wood store.  This was my first introduction to shawarma.  Ours was chicken (but it can be lamb), marinated and roasted on a special spit, then stuffed into pita bread, usually with a sauce like hummus, lettuce, and tomatoes.  It was very good.  One shawarma and drink usually cost about $12 in Israel (nothing is cheap there).IMG_0635_2

The Church of the Nativity is in the center of Bethlehem.  Across the street, they were setting up the famous Christmas tree that they would be lighting that night. IMG_0315Also across the street was a mosque. Christians are a significant minority in Bethlehem, but still a minority.

The Church of the Nativity is where tradition tells us that Jesus was born, and different denominations control different areas of the building.  We stood in line to enter the grotto adjacent to the Orthodox section, complete with chanting of prayers, lamps, incense, candles, and many icons.  When it was our group’s turn, they hurried us down into the grotto and pushed us through so they could keep the line moving.  In the grotto, a star was placed where they say Jesus was born.  Many people were kneeling and kissing the star.  Moving on from this grotto, we exited next to the Catholic chapel where the Pope gives his Christmas sermon every year. It was beautiful.

Orthodox section of the church (behind the renovation)
Orthodox section of the church (behind the renovation)
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Catholic section of the Church of the Nativity
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Place where Jesus may have been born
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Beautiful stained glass in the Church of the Nativity

We had a short devotion at the Church of the Nativity:

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 1: 4-7

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Caves in the Shepherds’ Fields

Then we were off to the Shepherd’s Fields, which is approximately where the shepherds heard the angels announce the birth of our Lord and sing “Gloria in Excelsis Deo.” The shepherds’ fields are on the edge of Bethlehem and are mostly a garden to walk around, with some small caves just right for devotions. We sat in one cave and sang several Christmas hymns, imagining the shepherds using these caves to sleep in and to protect their sheep.  I remembered throughout my childhood listening to John Denver and the Muppets’ Christmas album.  One of my favorites is “Noel: Christmas Eve 1913,” about that wondrous night:

Then spread my thoughts to olden times, to that first of Christmases
when shepherds who were watching, heard music in the fields.
And they sat there and they marveled, and they knew they could not tell
whether it were angels, or the bright stars a singing.

But to me heard a far, it was starry music,
the singing of the angels, the comfort of our Lord.
Words of old that come a traveling, by the riches of the times,
and I softly listened, as I stood upon the hill.

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Diane the former shepherdess

We heard from one of our fellow pilgrims, Diane, who used to be a shepherdess, about caring for sheep.  Sheep are very vulnerable creatures; they always need a shepherd.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27  Then we were able to explore a bit. Our other Pastor Matt (from Light of the Valley Lutheran Church) was quite the spelunker and recorded for us his excavations deeper into the caves of the Shepherds’ fields.  IMG_0338IMG_0340

Since that day of the pilgrimage was “Christmas” to us, I’ll close with the lyrics to my favorite Christmas hymn, “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”

Of the Father’s love begotten
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see
Evermore and evermore.

Oh, that birth forever blessed,
When the virgin full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face
Evermore and evermore.

This is He whom seers in old time
Chanted of with one accord,
Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word.
Now He shines, the long-expected;
Let creation praise its Lord
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heav’n adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing,
Pow’rs, dominions, bow before Him
And extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Ev’ry voice in concert ring
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee, with God the Father,
And, O Holy Ghost, to Thee
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving
And unending praises be,
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory
Evermore and evermore.

Amen.

Lutheran Service Book #384

Ein Kerem

Ein Kerem was one of my favorite spots in the Holy Land.  We arrived in Tel Aviv the evening before, rode in our tour bus to Jerusalem, and walked into the Old City via the “New Gate.”  Our hotel was in the Christian quarter.  We had a nice dinner, and then went to bed.  I woke up early that morning, my body still unaccustomed to the ten hour time difference from California, but I felt rested.

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Knights’ Palace, our hotel in Jerusalem
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Entering the Old City of Jerusalem through the New Gate

Ein Kerem is in a southwest “suburb” of Jerusalem, so it didn’t take us very long to get there. Tradition tells us that this is where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived, and where Mary traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth.  Zechariah was a high priest in the temple of Jerusalem.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah,  and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. Luke 1:39-41

The Church of the Visitation was the first church we visited.  

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bit of a hike up to the Church of the Visitation
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Church of the Visitation
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mosaic of Mary coming to see Elizabeth on the Church of the Visitation. The text is Luke 1:39: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah.”
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On a wall next to the church is the Magnificat in many languages. Here is the English version.
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beautiful statue of Mary and Elizabeth

Can you tell which one is Mary and which one is Elizabeth?  The artist was amazing.  Mary is on the left.  She is not as pregnant as Elizabeth, and Elizabeth looks older.

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Inside the Church of the Visitation
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A mural of the Visitation
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A mural of the Slaughter of the Innocents

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  Luke 1:46-55

Our devotion at the Church of the Visitation was Luke 1:39-56.  One thing to note is that when the Bible records John leaping in the womb of Elizabeth when she meets Mary, “the mother of my Lord,” there is no question that Jesus and John are distinct persons.  God treasures all life, even unborn life.  Psalm 139 states that he knows who we are and who we are going to be even while he is knitting us together in our mothers’ wombs.

Mary is extraordinary.  I am not Catholic, so I do not pray to her or worship her in any way.  She is a normal person, just like me, and God has given her a strong faith.  She doesn’t doubt the angel when he says that she will bear a son with the Holy Spirit.  She goes to see her cousin Elizabeth.  Having seen these places, now I know that Nazareth and Ein Kerem are not very close to each other at all.  What was a couple hours’ bus ride for us (passing through desert) must have been a journey of weeks for Mary.  Yet she does that to see her cousin, then goes back to Nazareth to get married, then is taken to Bethlehem with her husband, Joseph.  Bethlehem is also close to Jerusalem.  She traveled more (and harder) while pregnant than anyone I know.

When she dedicated her son at the temple, Simeon told her that a sword will pierce through her own soul also (Luke 2:35), and what did she do?  She “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”  Finally, many years later, she was at the cross and watched her son die.  The sword did pierce her soul also.  She watched him die, she grieved his death, and then she was blessed more than any other mother here on earth–she saw Him alive again!  He was not just her son; he was her Savior.

Mary is mentioned again in Acts 1.  While on the cross, Jesus arranged for her to be looked after by John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and she was with the disciples in the Upper Room after Jesus had ascended to heaven.  No doubt she was an integral part of the early Christian church for the rest of her life.

As a mother, I look to Mary’s example. We know that our children will suffer hardship, loss, and sometimes even death.  We can’t do much to prevent that in a fallen world. Swords do pierce our hearts, and our hearts bleed.  One of our fellow pilgrims lost two of her children, and she is one of the strongest people I know, but not on her own account. It is because she clings to the promise of God.  We know that God, who did not spare His only son, does not promise that we will not suffer loss and heartache in this world, but He does promise this (John 16:20):  “You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy,” just like Mary’s did.   My friend will see her children again in heaven, because Jesus died on the cross for our children.  He suffered and bled, while Mary looked on, and He rescued all of us from our sins.  My friend’s children were baptized into Christ, just as mine have been, and through the suffering, we cling to the promise Jesus delivers to us in baptism.  We will have joy.

Eighteen Years

A little detour off the Holy Land Pilgrimage for a minute…

I wanted to write for a moment about the hero in my life: my husband. January 11 is our 18th wedding anniversary.  He is kind of an unsung hero: I don’t talk about him very much, and I don’t write about him very often.  He’s quiet and doesn’t draw attention to himself.

It’s common to hear things like “I love my husband because he accepts me for who I am.”  My husband is a different kind of husband–he doesn’t accept me for who I am.  He knows who I am–he knows the bad: my anger, my hurts, my bitterness, my unforgiving, my negativity.  He knows the good parts too.  But he doesn’t accept me for who I am; he encourages me to be better than who I am.  Sometimes it’s more than encouragement–sometimes it’s more like wrestling.  He tells me what I need to hear in his blunt way–and I resist and struggle and, as I mature, I increasingly see that he’s usually right.  He’s made me a better person.

I’m proud of him.  He is very smart–he has an Ph.D. in organic chemistry (the class med students love to hate).  He provides well for his family, and he’s a great father to our two children.  He wasn’t born a Lutheran, but he’s caught up amazingly quickly, and he has an innate sense for good theology.  He delivered our daughter on the bedroom floor because she came into the world before the midwife got there–all without panicking (though when I said I could feel her head crowning, he said “No, you can’t.”).  🙂  He is patient with me, the impatient and easily dissatisfied redhead, and always encourages me to slow down.

We’ve had lots of adventures together.  When we first started out, we lived in a 400 sq. foot apartment on less than $15,000/year (typical grad student), while I went to nursing school, and he worked six days a week, 12 hours a day.  We braved the cold Minneapolis winters for a postdoctorate position, and then moved thousands of miles away to San Diego for a real job.  We’ve had two kids (only one on the bedroom floor), most of our grandparents passed away, Mark’s mom passed away, we’ve bought two houses, and have moved several times.  We’ve been river rafting, zip lining, lots of camping, hiked past a mama bear and her two cubs in a national park, saw jazz and alligators (“This is America, son”) in New Orleans, walked the Liberty Trail in Boston, ate sourdough bread in San Francisco, and most recently, went to Israel to see where Jesus walked and Jordan for some great historical sites.

He’s my best friend.  Ever since we’ve been together, it’s always been so wonderful that for awhile there, I was just waiting for something bad to happen.  I didn’t think I was allowed to be this happy for so long in my life.  And yet, here we are, eighteen years later.  I love you, Mark.

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Nazareth

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.”  Luke 1:26-27

Our first glimpse of Nazareth came when we went up to Mt. Tabor to see where Jesus was transfigured.  A beautiful city on a hillside up in the north of Israel.  We came to Nazareth on the last day of the pilgrimage, after having spent several days in Jerusalem and then about three in the Galilee area.  I will write more about Galilee later, but suffice to say, I wish I could have spent about a month there.

We had just visited the church commemorating the wedding at Cana, and drove along slowly in traffic to Nazareth, as it was a Friday and the Sabbath would start soon (meaning that all the observant Jews needed to be home by sundown).  Nazareth seemed to be a meandering city to me, much like the other old cities in Israel.  They are not built with cars and buses in mind, they grow up out of the landscape.

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Nazareth

Yet it was quite a modern looking city and demonstrated lots of opinions and good looking shops.

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Espresso bar in Nazareth
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A warning to Christians near the Church of the Annunciation

Then we came to the Church of the Annunciation, which was dedicated on Pastor Matt’s actual birthday.  It is a beautiful church, with two stories.

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The Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
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Top floor of the Church of the Annunciation
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Bottom floor of the Church of the Annunciation
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Excavations of the old town of Nazareth at the Church of the Annunciation
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The door to the church, showing images throughout Jesus’ life

IMG_1836 IMG_1837Incorporated into the bottom floor is some of the old town of Nazareth.   And then, outside, is more excavations of Nazareth.  I wish we had had a few more hours to explore this church, but we needed to get back to Tel Aviv so some of our pilgrims could catch a flight.

Our devotion at the Church of the Annunciation was Luke 1:26-38.  We sat outside, our last moment of the pilgrimage, and read this beautiful passage “For nothing is impossible with God,” and thought about the trials that God has brought us through and is bringing us through.  We thought about all we had been through on the pilgrimage.  It was the beginning for Mary and for Jesus’ earthly life, and it was a good place for us to end.

Coming soon: Ein Kerem