The Visitation of God

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Third Sunday of Luke, October 6, 2019
II Corinthians 6:1-10; Luke 7:11-16

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

God has visited His people! (Luke 7:16)

To understand this exclamation from the Gospel of Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain, we have to know the backstory on what it means to first-century Jews that God would visit His people. It’s not just that God has paid them a visit—though, in the Person of Jesus Christ, He clearly has.

This word visit is a fascinating one when applied to God throughout the Scriptures, and it’s not always pleasant, actually. For instance, in Exodus 20, when God is giving the Ten Commandments to Israel through Moses, He gives this warning about worshiping idols: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Ex. 20:5).

In this case, when God visits, it is for the purpose of bringing punishment upon whole families for the sins of their fathers. In the context of idolatry, we see this happen with Israel over and over. When the people of Israel fall into idolatry by bowing down and sacrificing to idols—that is, to the false gods that are fallen angels—then God brings suffering to Israel that often lasts for generations.

Likewise, a visit from God is mentioned in Psalm 59(58): “Thou therefore, O Lord God of hosts, the God of Israel, awake to visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors.” In this Psalm, David is asking God to vindicate him among his enemies, to “visit” the heathen who are “wicked transgressors.” Asking God to visit them is not asking for something nice.

So why term this a “visit”? Why should a visit from God bring suffering?

It is shown in many places in the Old Testament that to be in the presence of God in an unworthy manner is to risk destruction and death. And so being “visited” by God is not something you actually wanted. Being visited by God was dangerous. Even someone like Moses or Elias who had been well-prepared for a divine visitation sometimes experienced God only in an oblique way, being revealed only in a partial vision. To see God too directly was to die. And to be visited by God without being ready for it was to die.
Yet at the same time, God desires to be with His people. And since we were made for Him, since we are the sheep of His pasture, since we have the possibility of becoming sons and heirs of God, then we should desire to be with Him, as well, because He loves us and seeks union with us.

This, then, is the basis for all the things that we do as worshipers of God—it is preparation for meeting with Him. Exodus 19, for instance, is an extended series of purifications of the people led by Moses to ready them to meet with God at Sinai. They respected sacred space, for instance, not approaching the mountain directly. Moses sanctified them with sacrifice and washings. They had to wash themselves and their clothes. They had to fast from both food and marital relations.

And this also is the origin of the ritual elements of worship; the setting off of sacred spaces; of a consecrated tabernacle, temple, and altar; of the offering of sacrifice; and so on. All this was to make it possible for human beings to be visited by God and live.

It did not mean that doing these things earned a visit from God. Remember: You did not want to be visited by God without preparation. Preparing didn’t merit you a visit from God. He can come and go as He pleases. But preparation does make you ready to receive Him should He Himself decide to draw near and visit.

There is another aspect to visitation that I wish to bring forth here, and that’s God’s visitation as the act of the Incarnation itself, which is what is happening here in Luke’s Gospel with Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain.

In Isaiah 10, God says that He was going to bring to Israel the Day of Visitation. In this Day of Visitation, not only would the wicked be judged and vindication come down upon them—which is what happens when God visits you and you’re not ready for it—but He also was coming to vindicate the poor, the widowed, the lowly, those treated unjustly. He was coming to be their defender, to lift up the remnant that was faithful to Him, the remnant that had been purified through suffering for the Day of Visitation.

So when Jesus raises up the widow’s son during the funeral procession, He is simply fulfilling these prophecies from Isaiah. Note how often He reaches out to the lowly and the abandoned, the betrayed and the broken. He’s doing this not because He’s some kind of social activist but because He is God visiting His people, both judging the wicked and lifting up the fallen. And as Jesus tells Israel in Luke 19:44 during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they were being judged by God because they had not readied themselves for the Day of Visitation.

So how does this apply to us here and now? First, we need to understand where we are in the timeline. Israel was judged when God visited them at Christ’s First Coming. But there is a Second Coming, a second Day of Visitation when He will come in glory to judge the whole earth. We are preparing for that coming Day of Visitation. That is life for us now. But we also have many visitations by God even now in a smaller way, because He is still present with us. And these visitations are made to prepare us for that great Day that is to come.

He may not be visibly present with us in the way that He was in the first century, but He is present with us in His Church. He is present with us in the Eucharist and in all the sacraments, in the proclamation of the Gospel, in the acts of evangelism and love that Christians undertake. You might think that Jesus is absent, but as I John 4:17 says, “As He is, so are we in the world.” That means that the presence of the Church is indeed the very presence of Christ.

It is on this basis, then, that St. Paul warns us in I Cor. 11:30 that receiving the Eucharist in an unworthy manner can lead to sickness or even death. That is why repentance is called for in receiving communion—it is a dangerous thing to be visited by God and not be prepared.

That is why we are called to live our lives in repentance, not to plunge ourselves into guilt over our sins, but rather to be washed clean of them. All the things that we do in the Church are for this purpose of purification and for preparation for the coming Day.

To make us ready for that great Day, we also engage in preparation and purification many times over throughout our lives. In order to prepare today for the visitation by God in communion, we have been prepared by prayer, by fasting, and by a recent confession, having been set on the path of preparation through baptism and chrismation.

Someday, again, God will visit His people. And on that Day of Visitation, the faithful remnant will again be vindicated, because they will have been prepared through purification, through suffering, through all those things that illustrate and express our genuine loyalty and love for Christ.

But God will also be visiting the whole earth, and all those who are unprepared, having worshiped false gods and sacrificed to base desires, having trampled upon the lowly and the fallen, having not repented of whatever sins they have committed—upon these God will visit destruction.

The choice, as ever, is ours. So when that Day comes, let us be found purifying ourselves.

To the God Who is visiting us and will visit us us be all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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