I have another confession to make. We’re allowed to have favorite Scripture verses, right? I know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, correcting, etc., but that doesn’t mean I can't like certain passages more than others. And today’s reading is my favorite of the four songs in Luke. It’s called the Nunc Dimittis, because like the other three it’s named after the first two words in the Latin translation: "Now you dismiss. . ."
Before we get to the song, here are a couple of notes about the context. Mary and Joseph were not sinless, but they did try to obey God’s law as best they could. Forty days after a male baby was born, he was to be presented to the Lord and a sacrifice was to be given. Since during the Passover the Lord had spared the lives of all Israel’s firstborn, then every firstborn of every type belonged to him. If it was an animal, then that animal was to be sacrificed and offered to God. If it was a child, then an animal was offered in his place.
Please also note the type of sacrifice that Jesus’ parents made. It was a poor person’s offering, so this is an indication of their economic level. Jesus could have (and should have) been born into the richest palace built by man, but the Divine plan chose a poor family.
Then we get to Simeon. There wasn’t a single godly Jew in Israel who wasn’t eagerly awaiting the Messiah. I love the phrase which Luke assigns the Savior: “The Consolation of Israel.” They'd been waiting soooooooooooooo long for God’s promises to be fulfilled, and now they were about to be consoled by the living fulfillment of those promises. And Simeon had been given a promise which every faithful Israelite would've loved to receive. He knew that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah in the flesh. And every morning he woke up and probably asked himself “Is it today, Lord? Will I see him today?”
Now we get to my favorite part of this, the song itself. The same Voice which had given him the promise now whispered in his spirit “This is the One.” Probably his parents were standing there wondering why this old man was crying as he held the baby.
“You made a promise, and now you’ve kept it. Now I can depart in peace.” He'd heard about God’s salvation on Sabbath-day sermons. He'd read about God’s salvation in his holy word. Now he held God’s salvation in his arms. What was Jesus’ name again? “Yahweh saves.”
And what was hinted at in the first two songs now is brought to full bloom. He’s the Consolation of Israel, but he’s so much more. God has prepared this little baby in the sight of all people: white, black, Asian, African, rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, man, woman. He’s the glory of Israel: Everything that national Israel was supposed to be and failed, he is. But most important (to you and me, unless you’re Jewish), he’s the light to the Gentiles. We’ve been sitting in darkness, but now our Light has arrived.
Then Simeon finished talking with God and now had a few words to say to his mother. Her Son would cause the rising and falling of many in Israel, meaning that everyone would stand or fall based on their relationship with him. And he would be a sign that would be “spoken against,” which would reveal the state of everyone’s heart who encountered him. Your spiritual state would be exposed by how you reacted to the Messiah.
And now for the final heartbreak. I imagine he gently points to her chest as he makes his final, dark prediction: “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” I'd suspect that these words would echo through her mind over and over as she was forced to watch her own Son hanging on a cross.
You can probably guess the application. Simeon’s song, even more than the others, is particularly meant for me. I’m not Jewish, so I’m a “wild branch” who had to be “grafted” into God’s “tree.” When Simeon was singing, he was singing about you and me. As he’s weeping for joy, we’re in his vision. Aren’t you glad?
In celebration of that, here's Ron DiCianni's painting Simeon's Moment. Notice the outline of the world behind him.
And per usual, here's a great song by Michael Card for the occasion: "Now That I've Held Him In My Arms."
Lord Jesus, you’re not only the Consolation of Israel, you’re mine as well. Thank you so much for claiming me out of darkness and into your glorious light. Who else can we bring into this?
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