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Advent Reflections Part 2: The Visitation

Created by Joseph Benevento

 The first chapter of the Gospel of Luke tells us that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was well into her pregnancy before Mary learned of it through a visit from the Angel Gabriel.  We’re told that soon after, Mary leaves to visit with Elizabeth and stays with her for three months, up through the birth of John the Baptist.  Already pregnant herself, Mary took on that journey, stayed to help Elizabeth, and then came back to Nazareth.  Most Christians don’t really think much about the trip; they aren’t often asked to do so.  Instead, they are asked to focus on Elizabeth’s child “leaping in her womb” on Mary’s approach, Elizabeth’s declaring of Mary to be “blessed among women,” and Mary’s famous “song” about her soul magnifying the Lord.  But though that sublime give and take is beautiful, it’s also worth thinking about the logistics of that encounter so as to fully appreciate Mary’s heroism.

Elizabeth didn’t live in the next town over from Nazareth, but rather somewhere in the “hills of Judea”;  some scholars have identified the likely town as Ein Karem, which would have been seventy or so miles away, a journey of several days’ endurance.  Did Mary, already pregnant and just married to Joseph, really make that trip by herself?  Even if she hadn’t been pregnant, what woman of that time period would make a trek of several days over some very rough and uncertain terrain alone?  I like to think that Joseph accompanied her, at least to make sure she arrived safely.  Wouldn’t the average husband be expected to do so?  He probably could not have afforded to stay three months, though; he was a craftsman with a business to run- so he probably returned to Nazareth and then made the round trip again to escort Mary after her long visit. Ein Karem is less than five miles from Jerusalem; where Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was one of the priests at the main temple. (Zechariah had gotten his own visit from Gabriel but because he doubted the possibility of Elizabeth being able to bear a child and asked for a “sign,” Gabriel had him struck dumb until all that was predicted would come true)

Not many people realize, then, that the “Visitation” was no easy trek, but a real commitment by a pregnant Mary to her cousin Elizabeth in her time of need.  Soon after Mary’s return to Nazareth, the Roman census takers will insist that Mary and Joseph head for Bethlehem, Joseph’s hometown, which would entail their retracing much the trip they just had made, though at a longer overall distance.  I’ve been a Catholic for close to 70 years now, and I don’t remember any priest or other religious discussing with the congregation the amazing difficulties of these journeys that Mary and Joseph took on willingly to follow God’s plan.

One other takeaway from the events of the Visitation is the somewhat amazing faith of the women involved.  Remember that Joseph at first did not believe Mary could be pregnant and yet still a virgin.  And Zechariah had given up on Elizabeth as “barren” many years before; even an Archangel could not convince him she could bear a child..  Conversely, Elizabeth and Mary never doubt.  So filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit are they that they accept the promised miracles as easily within the province of the Most High.  They then stand as role models to their husbands, who then can come round and also fully believe.    

My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect Son

In this beautifully written novel- a masterful retelling of the greatest story ever told – Joe Benevento weaves together authentic Jewish and early Christian history with a fresh, humorous, and relatable take on Joseph’s journey from simple man to father to saint.  A rich, majestic, and relevant read.

Gary Jansen, Author of Station to Station and the Christopher Award winner, Remember Us With Smiles.

Thanks to a generous partnership with the author, Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri will receive all royalties (in perpetuity) for the sales of the novel, My Perfect Wife, Her Perfect SonPurchase a copy for yourself (or a loved one as a wonderful Christmas gift!) online at most bookstores or on

Looking for more?

Click here to read and listen to past Advent Reflection episodes, including the Bonus Episode: A Conversation with Author Joe Benevento.