Wednesday

02 February 2011

"Simeon took him [the infant Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying, '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 revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.'" (vv. 29-32)

Background

Today, 40 days after Christmas Day, the Christian church celebrates the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This story from early in the life of Jesus reveals that his parents were eager to obey the Jewish law and to fulfil its requirements. Here Luke (probably a Gentile, not a Jew) brings together into one account their observance of more than one such tradition; the offering for the purification of the mother (Leviticus 12:1-8), the redemption of the firstborn son (Exodus 13:2,11-15 which would not necessarily mean a visit to the Temple) and the idea of the presentation of Jesus, just as the infant Samuel was presented before the Lord (1 Samuel 1:24). Luke alone records this incident, so giving voice to two of the otherwise unknown saints of the first century. 

  • Simeon is an old man, nearing death. He is devout and humble, and has received a remarkable promise, that he will not die before seeing the Messiah, whom Jews believed God would send to be the salvation of Israel.
  • Also present is Anna (Luke 2:36-38), similarly ancient and similarly devoted to God, spending her time in and around the temple courts. After seeing Jesus she excitedly praises God and spreads the word.

Simeon's faith is rewarded and the promise is fulfilled, as Joseph and Mary bring their tiny baby into the temple, Simeon holds him and utters words of prayer, praise and prophecy, words often known as the "Nunc Dimittis" (Latin for his first phrase, "Now dismiss"). 

Simeon sees in Jesus:

  • Salvation - he could not know how this would be, but his faith perceives that through Jesus "all peoples" (not just Israel) will be saved.
  • Light, which will mean revelation to those who are not Jews, and glory for those who are, as they bring that message of light to the whole world.

Perhaps it is the mention of light which has led to this day becoming the time when, in some churches, the supply of candles for use in worship in the year ahead is blessed, and the day known as Candlemas. Many people like to place a lighted candle in their window on this night.

 

To Ponder

Why do you think Luke, a non-Jew, takes the trouble to tell us of this story of religious ceremony?

How can we reflect Christ's light of revelation and glory?

Some churches, especially in Continental Europe, keep their nativity scenes up until Candlemas. Forty days after Christmas, have you thrown the baby out with the wrapping paper yet?

Bible notes author: Jill Baker

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