Read the text here: Luke 2:22-40
One of the most wonderful things about Christmas is the opportunity to sing carols and each year we look forward to hearing and singing our favorite Christmas carols. It is not too surprising, after all, that the prologue in the Gospel of Luke (chapters 1 & 2 - from where comes the Christmas story) is just one song after another. Here is a quick review of the songs from the opening two chapters of the Gospel of Luke.
1. Mary’s song – The Magnificat (My soul magnifies the Lord) – Luke 1:46-55 (pew bibles NT pg. 44) – Sung by Mary after being greeted with celebration by her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s unborn baby John (the Baptist).
2. Song of Zechariah – The Benedictus (Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…) – Luke 1:68-79 (pew bibles NT pg. 44) – Sung by the priest Zechariah, John’s father after the miraculous birth of his son, John and after he had been struck mute for his lack of faith.
3. Song of the Angels – Gloria in excelsis (Glory to God in the highest) – Luke 2:14 (pew bibles NT pg. 45) – Sung by the “multitude of the heavenly host” in celebration and response to the announcement to the shepherds that the Messiah is born.
4. Song of Simeon – Nunc dimittis (Master, you are dismissing your servant in peace) – Luke 2:29-32 (today’s lesson and pew bible NT pg. 45) – Sung by the old man Simeon as a reaction to seeing the infant Jesus and recognizing him as the Messiah.
These four beautiful songs have a couple things in common. The songs are all spontaneous. In other words in all cases the singer bursts into song because he/she can find no other words to describe the wonder and awe and celebration of the moment. The songs are sung by (or to) outcasts: Mary, a pregnant teenage girl; Zechariah, a disgraced priest; Simeon, a very elderly man (the elderly were outcasts in the first century). The song of the angels is not sung by outcasts but a group of outcasts (shepherds) forms the audience for this performance. We have an age span that covers an unborn infant through to the very elderly; we have men and women; we have those who are economically dispossessed (the shepherds) and those who are economically more stable (Zechariah the priest). In this way Luke covers everyone. These songs are sung to express the joy and the fulfilling of the promise that is to everyone – rich and poor, men and women, young and old. Absolutely no one is excluded.
And if we look at the content of the 4 songs we see that all the songs share a major theme: The fulfillment of the promise which God made to Abraham and Sarah and which is now fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. Mary and Zechariah are explicit in this, Simeon and the Angels imply it. But there is no question that the birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that God made to Abraham. And what is this promise? God has “scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry, sent the rich away empty,” “…given the knowledge of salvation, been merciful and forgiving, brought light into the darkness” and all of that adds up to the gift of Shalom – Peace – complete well-being. “…guide our feet into the way of shalom;” “and on earth shalom among those who God favors,” “… you are dismissing your servant in shalom.” The promise of the Messiah is that through him God brings to us all the gift of well-being, unity with God and with others – shalom / peace – and offers it to us with love and grace.
Simeon and Anna, in many respects, are the first disciples. They see. They recognize the Messiah and they are overwhelmed by the gift. For Simeon, this experience allows him to accept his own death. The songs and the prologue cover everything from birth to death. All of human experience and existence is held within God’s promise, God’s love and God’s grace – including birth and death; including loss and fear and darkness. Through the Messiah God enters into the raw reality of human life and brings life and redemption and grace and salvation.The church has had a tradition of singing the Song of Simeon after Holy Communion, at the time of death, at funerals and for evening prayer. Why? In the words of Dr. David Lose: “For at this table, in this meal, we too, like Simeon, not only hear, but also see, touch, and feel the promise of life God makes to us. And after receiving this promise from God in the bread and wine, we too are propelled to confident and courageous lives even in a world so marked by death and loss. This explains, too, why we sing Simeon's Song in the evening and at funerals, for as darkness overtakes the world, be it the darkness of evening or death, we commend ourselves, all of our lives, and our loved ones to the God made known through the manger and cross, the God who has promised us life eternal in Holy Baptism. anchored by this promise we can go to our night's rest in confidence and entrust even our beloved to the God we know in Jesus.”1
1. Quote from essay "The Oddest Christmas Carol" by David Lose, Luther Seminary, Minneapolis, MN - http://www.workingpreacher.org/dear_wp.aspx?article_id=540