02 July 2008

The Visitation

Last week, on June 24, we celebrated a little "Advent in June" with the Nativity of John the Baptist. Today we who use the historic One-Year Series from LSB celebrate some "Advent in July" with the Visitation. (Those who use the LSB Three-Year Series celebrated this festival on May 31.)

In the Visitation we hear the account of the Virgin Mary going to visit her relative Elizabeth. Elizabeth is six months pregnant with John the Baptist, and Mary has just been given the miraculous conception of the Word of God, the eternal Son of God, in her womb. But the visitation that truly captures our attention and elicits our praise, along with that of Mary and Elizabeth, is that God Himself comes to visit us in the flesh.

Isaiah 11:1-5

The Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the coming of our visiting Lord and Savior as "a shoot from the stump of Jesse." The Holy Spirit would rest on Him, thus showing Him to be the very embodiment of God's "wisdom and understanding," "counsel and might," "knowledge and the fear of the LORD." We discover all of this in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh in the womb of the humble Virgin. The Savior who comes to visit us brings righteousness, that is, righteousness as the gift of God's forgiveness and the vindication of being set free from sin, death, and the devil. Thus this "shoot from the stump of Jesse" would "judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth." How blessed we are that our Savior comes to visit!

Romans 12:9-16
When our Savior comes to visit us in our flesh and blood, He comes to reunite and restore us to life with our holy, Triune God, the very life we had before Adam and Eve's fall into sin and death. Thus today's Epistle reading draws our attention to our true humanity, what it should look like and how it is meant to be lived. "Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." Certainly the Virgin Mother of God displayed these qualities and lived these virtues in her lowly state, but our Lord Jesus showed them perfectly and supremely. While Mary is certainly a good example of faithfully receiving the great things that God did for her, her Son both shows us how to "rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer," and He freely gives such gifts to us through His atoning death and resurrection and in the work and life of His Church. Since He has come to visit us in great humility by taking on our flesh and by dying and rising for us, we too can "rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep." We also can live and love in our recreated humanity and "live in harmony with one another," striving not to be haughty but rather to associate with the lowly and shunning conceit. This is the life that our visiting Lord embodies and gives for us.

Luke 1:39-56
Today's Gospel gives us the account of Mary coming to visit Elizabeth. However, the greater visitation happens between those who are unseen at this time: John and Jesus each in their mother's wombs. When Jesus enters the house, residing in Mary's womb, John, in his mother's womb, leaps for joy. His Savior, as well as the Savior of his parents and of the Virgin herself, has come to visit. Then Mary sings her magnificent song of praise, lauding God Himself, extolling His deeds for her and the rest of humanity, and teaching us how to receive God's good things no matter how lowly our estate. Mary serves as our great example for how to receive our God who comes to visit us in the flesh--in the flesh of His Incarnation and "in the flesh" of His Body the Church, especially as He comes in His Body and Blood on the Altar. Luther said it well in 1521: "Therefore god lets us remain poor and hapless, because we cannot leave His tender gifts undefiled or keep an even mind, but let our spirits rise or fall according to how He gives or takes away His gifts. But Mary's heart remains the same at all times: she lets God have His will with her and draws from it all only a good comfort, joy and trust in God. Thus we too should do; that would be to sing a right Magnificat" (The Magnificat, 1521; cited in For All the Saints, III:1307).

When our Savior comes to visit in His flesh and blood then, in Mary's womb, and in His Body and Blood now, at the Eucharist, we rejoice greatly, because He restores us to life with God by working His justice over our sin and death and over our enemy the devil. Thus we sing as Mary teaches us: "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

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