One of my favourite parts of the Bible’s Christmas story is known as the Nunc dimittis. In English, that translates as “Now dismiss”, the first two words of the speech of Simeon in Luke 1:29-32.
“Now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”.
I particularly love the fact that Simeon is moved to cry out these words while he is giving the child Jesus a bear hug!
Sadly, this very significant part of the Christmas drama doesn’t get highlighted in many Christmas pageants, perhaps because it refers to an event that takes place in the second week of Jesus’ life (see Luke 2:21). But it is an extremely encouraging little scene that everyone should know.
Simeon, a devout Jew, has been patiently waiting for what God has promised for generations: the arrival of the source of salvation. Simeon obviously knew his Isaiah prophecies, because his words on seeing the baby Jesus echo the words of Isaiah 40. This passage famously reminds readers that God will provide comfort and salvation, and that is exactly what Simeon perceives in the presentation of Jesus at the temple.
Simeon, a very old man, felt that he could now die in peace, having seen God’s salvation. “Now I can relax,” Simeon might have said in 2012, “because God obviously has everything under control and will keep his promises”. His confidence in God inspires Joseph and Mary, we are told (Luke 2:33).
But Simeon has more to say. In the verses that follow, he offers a blessing to both of them and then declares that Jesus will be a ‘boat-rocker’ across Israel, revealing the hearts of many who encounter him, and causing grief to his own mother. This little child is destined to cause a stir.
Suddenly, the stakes are raised. Jesus is both the source of comfort and the source of righteous judgment. This second speech by Simeon gives Mary and Joseph a forewarning of the events of Easter, the great suffering that Jesus will undergo for the sins of the world.
But the overriding message is one of comfort, peace and security, even in the midst of troubles. With Simeon, we can take Jesus in our arms and praise God, saying “Our eyes have seen your salvation!”
That’s a wonderful Christmas message, for all of us who are struggling through life. Our own circumstances may be distressing or depressing, but God has a great plan that is unfolding and he has shown it to us!
The birth of Jesus was the ‘herald’ that the plan was reaching fulfillment, and Easter gave us even more understanding of what God is doing. Hearts will be laid bare, souls will be pierced, but we can be at peace because the salvation of God is coming. We see it, and we can understand it, in Jesus.
From all at Bible Society Australia, I want to wish our readers, supporters and friends a peaceful, relaxing and safe Christmas season and God’s blessings for the year ahead. Thank you for being part of our mission in 2012, and we look forward to serving you and the world with the word of God in 2013.
Greg Clarke is the CEO of Bible Society Australia.