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Weekly e-Gram for members and friends of Dublin Community Church

December 16, 2011


It is very near Christmas, and the scripture passages which we study tell that the event of the birth is about to happen.

Case in point: this week’s Gospel passage is from Luke 1:26-38. This is called the Annunciation. It is the proclamation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary that she will bear a son, even though she is a virgin.

Growing up in the Protestant church, I recall the visitation of Gabriel in the scriptures but our church did not focus on the proclamation, nor observe Annunciation Day on March 25th…nine months before Christmas (do the math as to why). The Annunciation is a signature event in the time of the church, especially in Advent. Some Jewish texts view the Annunciation as indicating a sort of divine adoption.

Turns out there are not just two sides to every coin, but multiple sides. This passage of The Annunciation (the proclamation) shines a light on Mary as we approach the birth of Jesus.

You never know where these stories will take you. Last Winter, while on sabbatical I visited Ephesus in Western Turkey. Paul visited Ephesus and established a church there and the Biblical city is being unearthed by archeologists. It provides a stunning place to envision the city in which Paul walked. But the tour I took also bussed us to the sacred home of the Virgin Mary, high on a mountaintop in Turkey.

I don't recall studying anything about this in my seminary work and one has to take this for what it is. The story goes that the Virgin Mary, after Jesus died, spent her last years of her life in a house on the top of one of the local hills. It is a major tourist attraction today. Pope Paul back in 1966 and Pope Benedict in 2006 have made a pilgrimage to the site and declared it holy. It's a twisty-turn-y drive from the main road to the summit and once you are there, there is room for a few dozen tour buses. This shrine gets a lot of trade in the summer (not so in the winter when we visited). The house has been rebuilt and there is evidence that it was inhabited in the first century. A German nun in the 1800's had a dream that this is where Mary traveled to and lived out her life. The story goes that the Apostle John accompanied her there and wrote his Gospel in the vicinity.

The house/now chapel is stone. A shrine to the Virgin is in the small chapel. There are a few chairs in the place with candles to light.

A few years ago I was on the Southeastern shores of India where the Church of St. Thomas is located. They had a shrine in the sanctuary where the bone of one of the fingers of St. Thomas was displayed. Weeks later I visited the mountaintop shrine in the middle of Sri Lanka where you will find the Temple of the Tooth; story has it that it is the tooth of Buddha. In each of these cases, the faithful hold those places to be holy; regardless of the historical accuracy of the site. Because it has come to be revered by so many, it therefore becomes holy. I think that the greater importance of those sites, whether historical or a part of the heritage of the area is that people the world over seek the sacred in the midst of their everyday lives. Life can be coarse and the body becomes weak and weary, but the soul continues to seek out the sacred. Sacred places can be so because of a one time amazing, stupendous event, which is touched by the Creator or they can become sacred because men and women choose to set aside that place as one which refreshes the soul.

Such is the site of the home of the Virgin Mary in modern day Turkey.

Peace, Rev. Bob Tussing

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