The Visitation: The Gravity of Holiness

“In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”
Luke 1:39-40

(Taken from the original version of the book)
Have you ever sat in a sanctuary by yourself? Particularly at night with the lights turned down, a sanctuary has a very palpable feeling of holiness, which of course is the meaning of the name itself. The noise and rush of the world fade away in the quiet stillness. The beauty of many sanctuaries enhances this experience. Though we are always in the presence of God, certain places magnify this. A sanctuary can be one of those places.

The Celtic Christians had a name for them. They called them “thin places” where the physical world and spiritual world draw very close together. The veil is pulled back for a bit. The glass through which we see darkly becomes clearer. The beauty of the place draws us closer to the beauty of God. I like to broaden the idea to include thin times that are the days and longer periods we find in the Church calendar. They invite us to ponder certain truths. And I’d also like to add “thin people.” These are the folks that just have a special holy aura around them.

The Visitation is the most overlooked of all the scenes of the first Advent. The entire story of Jesus’ birth fills our minds with images of Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, and magi, but tucked into the narrative as we have it from Luke is an event that occurred right after the Annunciation. It’s the occasion of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth.

Two especially interesting details about this part of the story deepen our celebration of Advent. Notice that very soon after Gabriel’s visit, Mary went to Elizabeth. Why? The most obvious reason is that Gabriel mentioned in his message to her that Elizabeth had miraculously conceived, but he gave no instructions for Mary to go to her. Yet Mary “went with haste.” That’s intriguing.

Mary knew this was a momentous time. Her life obviously would never be the same, and the baby she would bear was a miracle. She’d been given a central role in the drama of God’s deliverance, and when she had this mission, she immediately acted. She went to the other central female character in the story. She acted.

When we have an impulse from God, no matter how small, our very worst response is to put off acting on it. Delay cools zeal. Hesitancy gives rise to doubt. Many church fathers described this spiritual listlessness as acedia, a word that means numbness to the action of God around you. The chief danger is that if you ignore God long enough, you eventually become unaware of both His presence and providence. God has so designed the spiritual life that He very much wants to include us in it, not just as recipients but as actors. Mary’s “going with haste” is a reminder for us to act this Advent.

The second feature of this scene is the very fact that she went to Elizabeth. Again, she wasn’t commanded to go. Gabriel simply told her Elizabeth was pregnant. As far as we know, Mary wasn’t privy to the identity of the baby Elizabeth carried. And Mary already was certainly embracing her….