I preached over Christmas break on the Luke 2 text in which Mary & Joseph present Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth. (This is 32 days after his other big adventure… see my wildly popular “holy prepuce!” post for more on the 8th-day circumcision).
After the gospel lesson and before my sermon, I asked encouraged arm-wrestled my 18-year-old brother to sing an arrangement of the “Nunc Dimittis” (literally, “Now you are dismissing”) that I had fallen in love with at my seminary’s weekly Evensong service (an Anglican sung Eucharist).
I spent a good deal of time explaining to my brother that the Nunc Dimittis is sung after the reading about Jesus each and every week.
We sing it after hearing of Jesus’ birth,
of his miracles,
of how he heals the sick
and gives sight to the blind
and feeds hungry people
and tells stories that show God’s great love for us.
We sing it after hearing the hard truth about what it costs to be a disciple.
We sing it after Jesus is tempted,
after Jesus is rejected,
after Jesus says things that are hard to understand,
like “Blessed are the poor” or “Love your enemies.”
And we sing it when Jesus is arrested, crucified, died, and buried.
“Mine eyes have seen thy salvation,” we just keep singing.
I explained all of this to my brother and told him that at seminary the Wednesday night Evensong is my “favorite service of the week.”
He just gave me the look—as only teenage brothers can do—and repeated my statement: “favorite service of the week?! Do you know how lame that is?”
Uh, well, I never thought about it that way before.
Thanks for pointing it out, bro.
But I am happy that I do attend multiple services per week, each in a different setting. My church on Sunday observed the Latin American tradition of leaving the baby Jesus in the manger for the 40 days after Christmas. From December 25th to February 2nd, he is naked except for a cloth diaper, and then on Candlemas/Candelaria (depending on your preferred language!), the day that celebrates the Presentation & Purification of Christ, he is dressed for the first time. One of the women in my church carefully dressed him in a soft blue onesie and cradled him in her arms. A grandmother herself, she stared at the doll intently, devotionally. And my eyes welled up to think of Anna and Simeon doing the same thing. Look, here is the Messiah! Here is the new life for our tired eyes, our brittle arms!
The “Nunc Dimittis” that I made my brother sing is a musical setting of the words that Simeon prays as he holds the baby Jesus in his arms:
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples,
to be a light to lighten the Gentiles,
and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”
A month & a half after Christmas, after all the decorations have been taken down and most (!) of the thank-you notes have been written, we’re reminded of the light of God that continually breaks into our world. We have seen the light of God. We have experienced the miracle of God-becoming-flesh. And now we can depart in peace.