Pastor Craig Carter
During this Advent season, the Sundays leading up to Christmas, we have been listening to the Songs of Christmas. Not the ones we normally associate with the holiday, like Jingle Bells or Joy to the World. Instead, we’ve focused on the ones contained in Luke’s gospel.
In his account of the birth of Jesus, four characters burst forth into song. So we have looked at Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, and the Angels’ Song. Today we’re going to complete the series by examining Simeon’s Song. Like the others, it is commonly referred to by a Latin title, Nunc Dimittis, which comes from its opening line.
Before looking at the song itself, let’s set the stage for this musical number. Jesus has
been born in Bethlehem where his family had traveled from their hometown of
Nazareth. His earthly parents, Joseph and Mary, are a good Jewish couple, so on the eighth day following the birth, the baby is officially named and circumcised. Then, when the child is 40 days old, he is taken to the temple of Jerusalem, about 6-8 miles away,
to be presented to the Lord. In accordance with the Jewish Law, a sacrifice is made as
Joseph and Mary dedicate their firstborn son to the Lord. That brings us to the scene
described in Luke 2:25-28 NLT:
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God.
Let’s pick up again in verse 35: Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple…and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem. (Luke 2:35-38 NLT)
Are you beginning to see a trend in Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth? Many of the principle
characters are advanced in years. To be more blunt, they’re old! “Very old!”
In contrast, Jesus’ parents are relatively young persons, perhaps even teenagers. This does not appear to be coincidental because Luke places great emphasis on the ages of the people involved. So what’s the point?
It seems to me, and other students of the New Testament, that Luke is trying to make two points. First of all, he wants us to see that an era is drawing to a close – the age of the Law and prophets. Since the best representatives of that era are old and near the point of death, while the Messiah’s parents are young and vibrant (and Christ Himself is a baby), Luke shows us that something new is coming into being.
While the older people have hung on to God’s promises and looked forward to His coming deliverance, in Jesus, God’s promises are now being fulfilled and God’s salvation is a present reality.
In addition, Luke wants to make it crystal clear there is no conflict between the old and the new. He shows this by depicting the most devout people of the previous era as being the most receptive to the new thing God is doing through His Son Jesus. Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna are not upset or resentful that the Messiah, the One sent by God to rescue His people, has come. Instead, they rejoice and celebrate His arrival in the world.
Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and prophets, but to complete them. Also, the Savior’s parents did not reject the Old Testament Law but, rather, embraced it. These phrases are included in this portion of the birth narrative: “as it is written” (v. 23), “in keeping with what is said in the Law” (v. 24), “as the Law required” (v. 27), “had done everything required by the Law” (v. 39).
What is the significance of these observations for us? Well, it’s safe to say, God wants to do something different in our lives as well. Jesus came to make all things new and He continues to do so through His Holy Spirit. The Lord wants to surprise us continually in new, fresh, unexpected ways.
That being said, what He accomplishes will build on the already existing foundation. God is going to use where we’ve been and what we’ve done to move us toward where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do. And our past faithfulness will help us embrace His present and future work. We can’t do anything about what has happened (or not happened) spiritually in our lives in the past, but we can ensure we live in faithful obedience to God’s will and ways in the present so that we’ll be well prepared for what God wants to do in the future.
The same principle applies to our life together as a congregation. For more than 100 years this church has faithfully served God in this community. And it is upon that foundation we now build…and a solid foundation it is.
But God isn’t finished with us yet so I’m excited about what new thing the Lord is going to do. It’ll require cross-generational cooperation as we work together for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
In about a dozen days we’re going to close out this year and embark on a new one. As we move forward into 2022, both as individuals and as a congregation, our motto should not be, “Out with the old and in with the new!” Instead, it should be, “Thank God for the old and bring on the new! Come, Lord Jesus, do something wonderfully new and refreshing in us, among us, and through us!” Amen?!
Against that background, let’s turn our attention to Simeon’s song itself. This righteous and devout man of God had been waiting for this moment for years and even decades as he longed to witness the arrival of the Lord’s Anointed One. So when he laid eyes on Jesus…
[Simeon] took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised.” (Luke 2:28-29 NLT)
This is where the title, Nunc Dimittis, comes from. It literally means “now let depart” (NIV: …you may now dismiss your servant in peace.).
Simeon was in essence saying, “I can now die a happy man…” What do you want to see happen that would let you depart this world in peace? What would cause you to die a happy man or woman?
Let’s listen to what Simeon suggests is a worthwhile ambition:
“I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people. He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:30-32 NLT)
The long-awaited hope that fueled Simeon’s life was God’s promised salvation. Salvation is the blessing of God that reverses the curse of sin and death. It brings forgiveness of our sins, the restoration of a right standing before God, the ability to live a life of holiness, and the hope of heaven. It is the reason Jesus left His eternal home and traveled to Planet Earth.
As the angel proclaimed, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born…” (Luke 2:10-11 NLT)
Who brings God’s salvation? Only a Savior, who is Christ our Lord. And Simeon, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, recognized Jesus as the embodiment of the salvation he and everyone desperately needed.
Friends, our Christian faith teaches that there is more to this world than meets the eye. The time we spend on this planet is simply preparation for what comes next. And we believe that when our life on earth is over we then go to one of two places. One, called heaven, is a hap, hap, happy place; the other, called hell, not so much. That means there is really only one way to die a happy man/woman/boy/girl. It is to know and accept the Savior, who is Jesus Christ the Lord. And we do that by putting our faith and trust in His saving work.
That’s the most important thing we can do in this life. If you haven’t taken care of that matter, today needs to be the day. And here’s how you do it: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:9, 13 NLT)
The reason Simeon could die in peace was not just because he now saw the means by which he could be saved. It was because salvation was now being made available “for all people.”). He recognized Jesus as “a light to the nations” (nations = lit., “every ethnic group;” or, in some translations, “Gentiles”) and “the glory of your people Israel.” It’s the same message the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, who were probably Jewish. But it’s also why some magi (or wise men) in a distant land were made aware of the Savior’s birth, who were most certainly Gentile.
Friends, this is why you and I need to sing along with Simeon. God’s salvation is now available for every living creature, in every place. But how will they know unless we sing loudly and clearly enough for them to hear?
So the most important thing we can do is accept Christ, and a close second is helping others embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. Would you die a happy man or woman if your children weren’t saved? How about your other family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors? The best present you and I can give those around us is showing them how to receive the gift of salvation.
Consider how much time and energy you’ve put into making or buying gifts. What if you invested an equal amount of time and energy in witnessing? I want to invite, even challenge, you to do exactly that. If not you, who?
Let’s commit to give our friends and family members the greatest gift this holiday season and share the Good News of salvation with them. So let’s sing Simeon’s Song by embracing the wonderful news that a Savior has been born and sharing it with others.
Back to the encounter between Simeon and the Christ-child: Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him (Luke 2:33 NLT). Their doubts and questions about Jesus’ identity were being vanquished. All that the angels had previously told them seemed to be coming true. Surely, they felt a sense of satisfaction and even pride creeping in. But those feelings were about to change … and change dramatically.
While the first verse Simeon’s song was addressed to the infant Jesus, the second verse was directed toward Mary, His mother. And what he had to say reminds me of a scene from the sitcom, Seinfeld (of course, everything reminds me of a Seinfeld episode).
Some friends of the Seinfeld gang have just had a child so the new mom and dad bug them, “You gotta come and see the baby!” When they do, Kramer responds, “It looks just like Lyndon Johnson,” while Jerry tries to hush him. Two years later, the couple has a second child and this time, when Jerry and Elaine gaze into the crib, they suddenly look away in horror. They agree with the mom that the baby is gorgeous, but outside, they gasp for air and Jerry says, “Was that the ugliest baby you’ve ever seen?” Elaine replies, “Ugh, I couldn’t even look.” Then Jerry says, “The thing is, they’re never going to know, because no one’s going to tell them. You have to lie, it’s a must lie situation!” This may have been a must lie situation in the temple, but Simeon spoke the truth:
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” (Luke 2:33-35 NLT)
In other words, your son is going to be a divisive force in people’s lives and will meet great opposition, and, by the way, He is going to cause you great heartache. That’s not exactly what a new mother wants to hear, is it?
I’m sure these words were both perplexing and distressing to Mary, but we now know exactly what Simeon was talking about, don’t we? Receiving Jesus into our lives and living as His disciples may well put us at odds with those who choose not to believe. The nature of God’s salvation is that it divides. So we should expect opposition for our chosen way of life. It’s what Jesus later talked about when He said He’d bring division to families and warned His followers they should expect hatred and conflict.
In fact, if we’re not experiencing disapproval and even persecution for our beliefs, perhaps we’re not really living as we ought to. It’s easy for everyone to ogle and coo at a baby in the manger, but remember … this child is the King of kings and Lord of lords who demands a decision. Neutrality with Christ is not an option; we have to choose who side we are on.
Then Simeon concluded his chorus by predicting the pain Mary would feel as a result of seeing the suffering and ultimate death of her beloved son.
Can you imagine what it felt like three decades later when a mother had to watch her beloved son be treated in the cruelest of fashions and be crucified as people mocked him? We too must never forget that the One who came as an innocent babe in a manger ultimately died as an innocent man on a cross
Why? To bring salvation and to purchase our pardon. That news brings a heaviness to my heart and pierces my very soul, too. As a result, I can identify with the words Isaac Watts penned in the final verse of his great hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.
Simeon’s song is one that we’d do well to sing along with during this season and beyond. It reminds us to avail ourselves to the new thing God wants to do in our lives. It shows us that the most important thing in life is that we accept God’s salvation and help others experience it. And it compels us to commit ourselves to follow Jesus no matter the cost, remembering that Christ paid the ultimate price for us.