Every year at Christmastime, Christians around the world sing the hauntingly beautiful “Gabriel’s Message,” a 13th-century Basque carol. Based on events from the Gospel of Luke, the lyrics tell the story of Angel Gabriel’s visit to young Mary:
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow,
His eyes as flame.
“All hail,” said he, “thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady, ” Gloria!
(I love the juxtaposition of the imagery—”wings as drifted snow,” “eyes as flame.”)
As the song continues, Gabriel tells Mary: “A blessed mother thou shalt be, all generations shall laud and honor thee.” In response to this astounding prophecy, Mary “meekly” bowed her head. “To me be as it pleaseth God,” she said.
Her words, so full of courage, attest to the power of saying “Yes,” even when we are terrified and a negative answer seems safer. Certainly, Mary must have feared the repercussions and stigma of being an unwed mother-to-be, as she had grown up in a conservative Jewish family.
During these very uncertain and distressing times, I find comfort in the power of Mary’s faith to step into the unknown toward God. Today, Annunciation Day, I want to pay tribute to her gallant spirit by returning to the sacred spot in Nazareth where the Gospel of Luke says she was visited by Angel Gabriel.
In 2019, I celebrated Easter in Jerusalem and after leaving the city, signed up for a day tour that included a stop at the Basilica of the Annunciation (above). Although the original church was demolished in the 1950s, the new one completed a decade later still stands on the original spot where Emperor Constantine I had commissioned the first structure in the 4th century.
On the lower floor, a simple altar (above) graces the cave where Mary said “Yes” to angel Gabriel. There are pews set up nearby for prayer and contemplation while surrounded by the well-preserved remains of former churches.
Outside the Basilica is an exhibition of mosaics of Mary from countries around the world, each a reflection of a unique national style and character. Those from Poland, China, and Bosnia and Herzegovina are below:
In celebration of Annunciation Day, I am listening to various renditions of “Gabriel’s Message.” One of the loveliest is by the Cambridge Choir and Orchestra of Clare College: https://youtu.be/zqT9BbiwFa0. A more modern version by Sting: https://youtu.be/GF2BzUDeTkY.
Although I am not in Nazareth today, I will revisit this holy place in my mind and contemplate the power of “Yes!” When we are overwhelmed by world events and wonder if one person can make a difference, there is Mary’s affirmation to remind us that the impossible is possible.