Happy Groundhog Day!
You’ve likely heard by now, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, predicting six more weeks of winter. (If this upsets you, take heart because Buckeye Chuck predicted an early spring.)
Today is also the Presentation of Our Lord, the day when the Church remembers Jesus’ presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). This was in accordance with the law of Moses, which required the mother of a newborn son to make an offering thirty-three days after his birth (Leviticus 12).
Considering this law, the presentation of a newborn and his mother must have been a regular occurrence. Yet, when Mary and Jesus entered the Temple, something unique happened—an elderly man, Simeon, also came into the Temple and took Jesus into his arms and began to pray:
“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.”
– Luke 2:29-32
His prayer, or song, is called the Nunc Dimittis for the first words of the Latin translation of the prayer, meaning “Now let depart.” The reason for the talk of departure is that the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before having seen the Lord’s Messiah (Luke 2:26). Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came to the Temple, set his eyes on Jesus and saw Him as the Messiah—the Savior.
But think about Simeon. Imagine being the recipient of that promise from the Lord. Every day you would wake up and wonder, “Is today the day?” “Will today be the day when salvation dawns?”
When Simeon saw Jesus he knew that God had been true to His word. He had seen the Messiah before he died. Israel’s—and, indeed, the whole world’s—Savior had come. Simeon could now depart in peace.
Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “Groundhog Day” in which the main character played by Bill Murray is caught in a time loop in which he repeats February 2 every day. Every day he wakes up to the same song on the radio alarm clock, “I Got You, Babe” by Sonny and Cher. A friend of mine—also a pastor—quipped that the movie would have been different if he had woken up to the Nunc Dimittis every day.
It might surprise you to discover that the Church does that in a way. The Nunc Dimittis has long been the last song of the service called “Prayer at the End of Day” (a.k.a., “Compline”). Simeon’s Song also has a long history of being sung as a part of the funeral liturgy, as we lay our loved ones to rest in the same peace of the Lord about which Simeon prayed.
My first experience with the Nunc Dimittis, however, was as a part of the liturgy for holy communion in the church of my youth. After having received the Lord’s Supper, the congregation would sing this prayer, recognizing that we have seen the salvation the Lord has prepared for us when we, like Simeon, took Jesus into our hands. Also, like Simeon, we have received a word from the Lord—that, by faith, having received our Lord into our bodies for the forgiveness of our sins, we also have the promise that while we will see death, nevertheless, as our lives are bound to Jesus through baptism, we have His eternal life and will indeed be raised with Him!
Now that is a song worth repeating every day!
The Lord be with you,