A reflection by Fr. Idara Otu, MSP, on the Fourth Sunday of Advent: Micah 5.2-5; Hebrews 10.5-10; Luke 1.39-45

In many traditional African communities, visiting extended family is a prized cultural value. When planning to visit an aunt, uncle, or cousin, one is not necessarily obliged to inform them ahead of time. Even though prior notice is well appreciated, an unexpected visit does not diminish the warm welcome one receives; rather, it adds to the excitement that often resounds across the neighborhood. On a recent three-nation visit to spread a message of hope, reconciliation, and peace to the continent of Africa, Pope Francis said: “I remember many moments, but above all, I remember the crowds…They felt visited, they are incredibly welcoming, and I saw this in all three nations.”

In the gospel reading, we hear of Mary setting out in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. Mary had been visited by the Angel Gabriel bearing an extraordinary message that she would become the mother of the Messiah, Emmanuel, God is with us. In turn, Mary visited the pregnant Elizabeth to share this good news. Although Mary’s visit was unexpected, she received an incredible welcome and Elizabeth felt visited. The visit and greeting also brought joy to little John the Baptist in Elizabeth’s womb and renewed Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit.

The encounter between these two cousins was a meeting of two hearts filled with love and joy. It is a profound example of the power of visiting and welcoming. In visiting Elizabeth, Mary became a prophet heralding the birth of the Messiah; in welcoming Mary, Elizabeth celebrated Mary’s witness with joy. Through the grace of visiting and welcoming, both Mary and Elizabeth experienced the presence of Emmanuel.

Advent prepares us to celebrate God’s visit to humanity and to welcome Jesus Christ once again into our lives. As we count down to the celebration of Christ’s birth, we are reminded to be treasures of visitations and welcomings. These days, visiting may no longer be frequent given the revolution in communication and information technologies. Sending greeting cards and emails and making phone calls remain a valuable culture of the Christmas season, but they do not replace the gift of a visit. Visitation and welcoming are priceless gifts we owe one another, graced moments of affirmation and transformation. Through genuine acceptance of visiting and openness to welcoming others, we are enriched with immeasurable divine gifts.

Visits with family and friends can become moments to celebrate Emmanuel. Creating time to visit a relative living alone, a new refugee in the neighborhood, a sick friend in hospital, or those incarcerated can become a moment to herald Emmanuel. Let us gladly renew the traditional gestures of visits and welcomes as great opportunities to herald and celebrate the love, joy, hope, and peace of the Messiah.

Fr. Idara Otu is a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul. He is currently residing with the Scarboro Missions community in Scarborough while studying for his doctorate in theology at Regis College.