On a cold afternoon in the fall I arrived in Philadelphia several hours before a dinner meeting. Clutching an umbrella way too small against a rain driving way too hard, I braved my way up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Climbing up those stairs made famous by Rocky, I was soon enough inside, dry and with spirits brightened by the magnificent collection of art. The Impressionist paintings are so familiar that I had to remind myself these are the real ones, the originals, not the postcard and print versions. The very Pennsylvania collection of early American furniture reminded me I was in Philadelphia, not Paris. Winding my way back through gallery after gallery at a fairly brisk pace, I suddenly stopped in my tracks before an arresting picture of young Mary. The angel Gabriel is portrayed in a column of light, before Mary sitting on a bed with rumpled covers. Mary is attentive, bewildered and yet so believably about to say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
We have Henry Ossawa Tanner, (1859-1937), son of an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, to thank for this beautiful portrayal of the Annunciation. In this season of Advent, we hear the story over and over again in words, songs and pictures. The story is so familiar and yet so real. It is a story of events that happened long ago and far away, and a story of Christ coming into our lives where we are today. Come, Lord Jesus!