by Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar
This is the time of year when people begin to do all sorts of holiday and summer traveling. We go to see historical sights, enjoy theme parks and other attractions and often include visits with relatives along the way. Appropriately enough, the one special festival on the calendar of the Church Year that has to do with relatives visiting one another shows up in this corner of the year. The name of the celebration is The Visitation.
Observed by many Christian communities on May 31 and by others on July 2, the day commemorates the visit that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had with her cousin Elizabeth in the time before their sons Jesus and John were born. Tradition in the Holy Land places that special visit at a lovely village near Jerusalem called Ein Kerem–the place of the vineyard spring. A favorite subject for religious artists throughout the centuries, the meeting of these two expectant mothers is shared with us only in Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:39–56).
After reporting the joyful meeting of the two relatives, Saint Luke records the song of Mary, which celebrates the blessings that have come to her from God and will come through her as the mother of our Lord. We know this song as “The Magnificat” and sing it as part of the Service of Vespers in the Church (LSB, p. 231).
There are many lessons to be learned from this traveling time account in Scriptures. The Visitation is a testimony to the great planning of God to bring about the salvation of mankind. Jesus is to be born at just the right time. His cousin John, who will prepare His way as He calls people to repentance in the wilderness, will be born not long before Him. Their mothers are relatives whose closeness only multiplies their joy.
Taking time in our travels to visit not just at places but with people is one very simple lesson from this Bible account. Traveling and visiting are great, but visitations in which the goodness of God is recounted and happily shared are even better! This special added dynamic for travel is thoughtfully reflected in “Mary Went Up to Hill Country–A Carol for the Visitation” written in the last century by Lutheran educator F. Samuel Janzow. In his concluding stanza he counsels, “Stay-at-homes never let us be, but go we up through hill country and there speak kindly each to each the Spirit’s greeting that can reach the heart and open it to sing the song that only faith can bring: ‘My heart God’s greatness voices, my soul in him rejoices. He is my Savior, faithful, true; His mercy will enfold you too.’”
Sharing words of faith along the way wherever we travel this season as well as witnessing to the great and amazing love of God in Christ Jesus can enrich and bless any and all of our visitations!
About the Author: Rev. Dr. Greg Wismar is pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, Conn.