A Nunc Dimittis For The New Year

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel. … And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, [Simeon] took [the child] up in his arms and blessed God and said, ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for my eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.’” (Luke 2:25, 26-32; emphasis added)

As we experienced the wondrous message of Christmas this past week … the presence of the Messiah is a mystery. It cannot be said by everyone, and it cannot be seen by everyone, but only by those like Simeon in our gospel reading, who have heard God’s Word of promise and look with eyes that are guided by the Holy Spirit (Luke 2:24d, 27a). And so for us, come Sunday … the first day of the New Year 2017 … there is a renewed call by God to “behold,” to “listen” for his Holy Word that still comes to us – together with a splashing of water at baptism and the bread ‘n wine where Christ promises to be truly present (cf. R. Jenson’s Visible Words). Yes, there’s something surprising, something quite unexpected about the appearance of salvation; something that contradicts pious opinions and intellectual demands (I Corinthians 1:21-23).

As the wise old theologian of the 20th century, Paul Tillich cradles it: “The mystery of salvation is the mystery of a child” (The New Being, p.95). So it was anticipated by the Old Testament prophets (e.g. Isaiah 7:14; 9:6; 11:6) … the “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1-2) … as well as those beloved advent figures who set-the-stage-in-waiting for the “good news” of the gospel (Mark 1:1): Zechariah ‘n Elizabeth, Mary, and Simeon (Luke 1:5-25; 26-56; 2:22-35). They all believed, as did the early Christians, that the event of salvation is the birth of a child. For a child is real and not yet real, it is in history and not yet historical – its little hands have not yet matured into full reach. A child’s nature is visible and invisible; it is here and not yet fully here. The New Testament is clear in stating that the Kingdom of God is at hand in the person of Jesus; yet, this kingdom is still coming about, in secret mystery, till the time of fulfillment when he returns. This experience of waiting – of “not having but also having” … of “now and not yet” (John 4:23) … is the character of salvation. Salvation has the nature of a child.

And so we wait … we wait in the Spirit of God’s promise in this Christmas Season ‘n beyond … with Zechariah and Elizabeth, with Mary, and with Simeon … and all the “waiting witnesses” of faith … those who trust that the seed of salvation has already been planted, like a seed growing deep in the womb of God’s world and in us …

Yes, salvation has the nature of a child … and when it grows-up is crucified and raised. Only the person who has eyes of faith to see power under weakness, glory under suffering, life under death (cf. Martin Luther’s “theology of the cross”) … can hold out one’s hands with Simeon, as in Rembrandt’s painting that you see attached here … and behold a little child, a little bread ‘n wine, and confess Simeon’s nunc dimittis: “Lord, lettest now thy servant depart in peace according to your Holy Word … For mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Luke 2:29-30). 

A blessed New Year to you and your kin …                
Dr. John Christopherson
Senior Pastor