A Peaceful Death….a new kind of New Year’s resolution

(Rembrandt. Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple. c. 1666-69)

This week, the Christian church wherever gathered celebrates the second Sunday of Christmastide.  Our decorations are still displayed throughout the church halls and sanctuary.  When most people are putting everything back in the box, we find ourselves in the midst of the 12 Days of Christmas, leading towards Epiphany.

In many Christian tradition, the Nunc dimittis (also Song of Simeon or Canticle of Simeon) is read or sung.  Unknown for many (including myself until this past week) is what the Latin actually means….”now dismiss”

The liturgical text for this Sunday is found in the later part of the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There is much that can be unpacked in this section about Joseph and Mary, Jewish customs, and prophets.  However, the prayer of Simeon is extremely noteworthy and relevant for this particular season of the year.  This man was not one of the high officiating priests of the temple.  He was not part of the machine of ministry.  Rather, Simeon was a faithful, dedicated, and obedient servant of God filled with the Holy Spirit.  He had longed for and awaited God’s promised Messiah, and now upon seeing and believing that this young infant was indeed the Redeemer and Savior, Simeon was at peace and ready to be “dismissed.” His mind and heart were at peace and he was ready to die.

How does this fit in with the start of a New Year

This can be a great time to reflect upon the relationships in our lives.  Our relationship with God, with others, and with ourself.  Are we at peace?  Are we anxiously waiting for something to happen in our life or are we content.  As I read and listened to this passage, I discovered it afresh this year.  While I am not wishing for an untimely death, I do hope that there is peace in my heart and life

I remember hearing my older family members saying “If the Red Sox could just win one world series before I die….”  I vividly remember that cold autumn night in 2002 when the impossible happened and a collective exhale throughout New England could be heard.  I honestly believe that for many, they were now ready for death!

But what about you?  How are the relationships in your life?  Are you at peace and, as much as it depends on you, are you attempting to live peacefully with others…including your enemies?

Like Simeon, when our eyes have seen “the salvation of the Lord”, it changes everything.  When you look back upon last year, was God’s grace, kindness, faithfulness, and salvation evident?  Even in the midst of hurt, confusion, unanswered prayers, and silence…salvation was there.

Will we approach this new year like Simeon did each and every year..in hopeful anticipation and expectation of God’s promises being fulfilled in the in breaking of the Lord’s favor.

The word “dismissal” may conjure up various memories and meanings to you.  For some, it was the long-awaited words finally granting you freedom from a boring lecturer (or church service).  You simply could not wait to get out of there and anything else seemed like a much better option!

I remember back to my childhood school days and “dismissal” time.  Class was never so bad, and usually enjoyable.  However, the real highlight of the day was recess! As innocent and care-free children, we would run around and play and simply be full of life!

Simeon’s life of faith and obedience prepared him for the great dismissal. He was ready to enter into true life.  He was being dismissed into some reality far greater than the mind can imagine.

Hopefully our own eternal dismissals are well in the future.  But as we leave church services this weekend and leave the Christmastide mystery of the incarnation behind, we are dismissed into the world to run and play and be free as we invite others to experience the same.

T.S. Eliot

A Song for Simeon
Lord, the Roman hyacinths are blooming in bowls and
The winter sun creeps by the snow hills;
The stubborn season has made stand.
My life is light, waiting for the death wind,
Like a feather on the back of my hand.
Dust in sunlight and memory in corners
Wait for the wind that chills towards the dead land.
Grant us thy peace.
I have walked many years in this city,
Kept faith and fast, provided for the poor,
Have given and taken honour and ease.
There never went any rejected from my door.
Who shall remember my house, where shall live my children’s children
When the time of sorrow is come?
They will take to the goat’s path, and the fox’s home,
Fleeing from the foreign faces and the foreign swords.
Before the time of cords and scourges and lamentation
Grant us thy peace.
Before the stations of the mountain of desolation,
Before the certain hour of maternal sorrow,
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no tomorrow.
According to thy word.
They shall praise Thee and suffer in every generation
With glory and derision,
Light upon light, mounting the saints’ stair.
Not for me the martyrdom, the ecstasy of thought and prayer,
Not for me the ultimate vision.
Grant me thy peace.
(And a sword shall pierce thy heart,
Thine also).
I am tired with my own life and the lives of those after me,
I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me.
Let thy servant depart,
Having seen thy salvation.