“…because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
To be visited by the Lord is almost always a good connotation, as in the prophet Jeremiah, “They shall be carried to Babylon, and there they shall be until the day that I visit them,’ says the LORD. ‘Then I will bring them up and restore them to this place.’ ” Or again, from Psalms, “Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation.”
When the Lord comes, it’s to save His people. Yes, He’s coming as a judge, but there’s a reason why the household of faith “lifts up their heads.” It’s because the day of Christ’s return is a day of salvation, when the Lord will save us from our enemies, sin, death, and the devil. It’s not a day of fear and “judgmentalism.” Those that look to Christ for salvation will not be let down.
It is only in this context that Jesus’ use of the word today makes sense and explains why He weeps. Jerusalem did not know the time of its visitation. They didn’t know the time in which God was coming down to visit His people. That is, they did not believe in Jesus as the incarnate messiah. Because they did not, they would not receive their salvation, but only get judgment through the Roman army.
St. Luke’s Gospel especially works with the “visitation” idea. Already in the Benedictus, Zachariah’s canticle of praise at John the Baptist’s birth, we hear of God’s “visitation.”
“Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, For He has visited and redeemed His people.” God has visited His people, to redeem them. Incarnation and crucifixion both are suggested in his words.
He goes on, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, To give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins, Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us.” Again, there’s the incarnation: “you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways.” It’s none other than God visiting us.
But there’s more. God visits us with tender mercy, manifest in the remission of sins, of which John gives knowledge. How? Through his baptismal ministry: “And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” Baptism is where the Dayspring from on high visits us and instructs us in the remission of sins.
The Greek word form which “visitation” comes is episkope, very closely related to the word for “overseer” or “bishop” (with which the word is etymologically related). As such it has a sense of “to look over” or “to cast ones eyes over.” Interesting that we began our meditation on this week’s passage considering how the “sight” of Jerusalem triggered Jesus to cry.
Our God is no Gnostic, Islamic, or Deistic God. He’s not “out there.” As much as the Neoplatonist monastics wanted to fold into their theology this notion of the “out there” God who’s so far above our thoughts and cannot be contained by words, and as much as the modern evangelicals express their piety in a “not boxed in” God, our Lord is actually quite near, quite boxed in, quite approachable. He “visits” us; He’s triggered to cry by sights. No abstractions in him; no broad generalities. Individual people, cities, and times move Him.
And in our day, He still visits us, in the way foretold of John the Baptist long ago. By baptism, by turning away from sin and towards the font. There we meet a God who comes to visit us, for wherever His name is invoked, there He is present to save. How wonderful to know the day of our visitation. How wonderful for these things not to be hidden from us. How wonderful not to be a trigger for our Lord’s weeping, but for His rejoicing.