Christ Centered Church Resource Site

Nunc Dimittis

Luke 2:22-40
Sun, December 29, 2002
Rev. Ed Searcy
This is a text to savour on a day to savour. The world around us has moved on. Christmas is over, so they say. Time to prepare for the New Year, so they say. But not here. Here the new year is well underway. Here we mark the fifth of the twelve joyous days of Christmas celebration. In the midst of the celebration, Simeon steps forward to sing his song of joy. We know it as the ‘Nunc Dimittis’ from its first words in Latin. They are words that are imbedded in the memory of the Christian community for they have been the last words sung at evensong since the 4th Century:
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word:
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for the revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
These are words imbedded in the church’s memory but, I dare say, largely forgotten in the church we inhabit. This is not a carol that we sing. These days Simeon is excluded from our Christmas pageants. Once the babe is born and the angel choirs have sung we package up the nativity scene for another year. We neglect the visit of the Holy Family to the Temple where Simeon and Anna rejoice in the arrival of the long-promised child.

Simeon can die in peace. His life is complete. His soul is at rest. He has seen the evidence of God’s promise fulfilled. The promise is for “all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” In this infant outsiders the world over will come to meet the One God of heaven and earth. In this revealing of Yahweh to the Gentiles, the people of Israel who have kept the ancient covenant will be a glory to God. This is a song worthy of imbedding deep in our memory. Notice the wisdom of the church in singing such lyrics before entering the realm of darkness each night. The ‘Song of Simeon’ is the faith with which the baptised enter the darkness ... the darkness of death that lies all around. Yet many find it impossible to sing a joyful ‘Nunc Dimittis.’ Many still wait for evidence that God’s promise to save will be fulfilled. Many known to us walk in darkness and do not see “a light for revelation ... and for glory.” Some of us are in that number. Some of us long for a sign, a glimpse, a glimmer of light in the midst of the void and the shadows and the absence. Which explains the great gift of not going it alone but of belonging to a people with a memory. Even when it is not possible for us to sing a grateful ‘Nunc Dimittis’ it is still possible for the church to sing from its long memory: “Now dismiss your servant in peace, for our eyes have seen your salvation.”

This is the faith that we inherit in our baptism. It is not earned by our goodness. Nor is it something that we easily trust with our lives. But this does not make the truth of Christmas false. Our faith - or lack of it - is not the issue. The issue is God’s faithfulness - whether or not we always believe it to be true. And the good news is remembered by the church, even when we as individuals forget it or leave it or cannot believe it. Sometimes not only individuals but entire congregations, whole denominations, even generations find this faith to be an impossibility and so place their trust elsewhere. Sometimes we fall in love with idols, with small ‘g’ gods ... with convincing technological fixes and tempting sales pitches that promise salvation from trouble but ultimately fail to deliver. Sometimes we fall victim to chronic spiritual diseases ... to despair or to apathy or to fear. But our baptism keeps us close to a community that finally remembers what Simeon knows to be true - that Jesus is the one in whom God’s promises to save are being kept. This is what we witness in little Sophia’s baptism this morning. Here she is given the gift of our communal memory. Here she is made a part of a body that will remember even when she forgets the great love of God in Christ that saves. Baptised into Christ with her we depart into the darkness in peace. Leaving the font we enter the troubles in trust, unafraid to risk the journey in obedience to the One whose life sheds light on a shadowed and bedevilled world. Nunc dimittis. Amen.