Tuesday

02 February 2016

“A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (v. 32)

Psalm: Psalm 24


Background

Today marks the Feast of Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the temple, as it is told in Luke's Gospel. On the face of it, it seems an all too human story as the parents take their first-born child to Jerusalem to present him before the Lord and to offer the sacrifices which the Mosaic law required (verse 23). But reading more closely we find that this story, which appears only in Luke's Gospel, draws out some themes which will become apparent later in Jesus' ministry.

In the temple Joseph, Mary and Jesus met an old and righteous man by the name of Simeon who had long been waiting for "the consolation of Israel" (v. 25). There is a sense in which Simeon symbolises that faithful remnant of Israel which awaits the fulfilment of God's promises through his prophets. When the infant Jesus arrived in the temple, Simeon was led by the Spirit to take the baby in his arms (verse 28) and offer that wonderful song of praise which has come to known as the Nunc Dimittis.

The familiarity of this canticle, which has become an integral part of the Order for Evening Prayer, sometimes causes us to overlook its profound challenge. For while Simeon rejoiced that he may now depart this life in peace, as in the form of this young child he had seen the salvation of Israel, he also recognised that salvation was not for Israel alone. Rather it has been prepared "in the presence of all peoples" (v. 31) to be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles" as well as for "glory to your people Israel".

For Simeon could see that this child bore a message of salvation that stretched far beyond the bounds of Israel, whichis one of the themes of Luke's Gospel and, of course, the Acts of the Apostles. He also recognised that Jesus would present a challenge for the existing order in Israel, one "destined for the rising and falling of many" (Luke 2:34); and he went on to tell Mary his mother that "a sword will pierce your own soul too" (Luke 2:35), a truth that will be born out as Jesus' life and ministry unfolds. Finally, Simeon prepared the way for the prophetess Anna (in the verses which follow) to offer her own song of praise and promise for the redemption of Jerusalem.


To Ponder

  • This is a story in which old and young meet. How important is it to ensure a place for those of all ages in the life and worship of our Church?
  • Simeon's words to Mary include a warning about future pain. How dowe encourage and support parents during those times when raising children can be difficult? (This interview with the actress Sally Phillips offers some interesting insights.)


Bible notes author: 
The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

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