Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Visit

Christmas is a hectic time of the year. You'd think they would move it to a less busy time! Today the local radio news was warning of traffic delays and congestion around every shopping centre car park. Glad I steered clear, but I was busy with other things.

Christmas is a busy time for ministers. There's the rush of celebrating Home Communions with those who can't get out to church. There's the other visits as well, to the housebound, ill and infirm, making sure we see everyone before the big day. So I was dashing around the parish doing lots of visits, calling in with people, reading the Bible with them, and then praying into their specific situations - perhaps bereavement in this past year, or loneliness without family to share Christmas with, or illness. Lots of visits.

But it's so important to not lose sight of The Visit, the visitation that is the reason for the season, and what gives us something to celebrate. Three times in the Gospel according to Saint Luke, we find a reference to the visitation:

1. 'Blessed by the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people'. (Luke 1:68)

The start of Luke's Gospel is packed with special songs. Mary breaks into the Magnificat; Simeon teaches us the Nunc Dimittus, and Zechariah sings the Benedictus. Mary is calling with Elizabeth, after Gabriel's news of Mary's pregnancy, and John the Baptist has just been born. Zechariah praises God, because he has visited and redeemed his people. Jesus is the visitation of God to his world, to rescue his people.

2. 'God has visited his people!' (Luke 7:16)

Jesus has grown up and launched into his ministry, healing the sick, teaching the crowds, and in chapter 7, raising the dead. The widow of Nain's son is brought back to life as the funeral procession made it's way to the cemetery, and the people realise that something special is happening in and through Jesus Christ. The whole of verse 16 combines the witness of the shepherds at the birth of Jesus - fear and glorifying God: 'Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, "A great prophet has arisen among us!" and "God has visited his people!"

Good news indeed, that God's people have not been left helpless or hopeless, but that God has visited them, become one of them, in order to rescue them. And yet, not all recognised what was happening. The outcast shepherds were the ones who praised the Lord, not the respectable members of society. And so later on, Jesus warns about the terrible destruction of Jerusalem which would take place in 70AD, when the temple was destroyed:

3. 'And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.'

Sometimes people get annoyed at missing my visits. I'll knock the door, ring the doorbell, but they just don't hear. Perhaps they're out at the back, or having a doze. I always leave a card, with my phone number and a rough idea of when I'll call again. It's annoying to miss someone, to not realise they had called. But here, God's people, the people of Jerusalem, had seen Jesus, yet didn't realise the significance of who he was. The destruction of Jerusalem is because they didn't see who was visiting - they killed the Lord Jesus.

What a lesson for us, as we prepare to celebrate another Christmas. Will we grasp the wonder of the Christmas story, that God has visited us to rescue us? Or will we miss him yet again amidst the parties and tinsel and turkey?


  1. Hope you manage to get a decent rest after all your work is done. Happy Christmas Gary to you and your family.

  2. Thanks Daniel. Enjoy your first Christmas in your new parish. Are you getting a break?