Our Gospel reading for today (Luke 2:22-40) contains what is called the “Song of Simeon,” also known as the “Nunc Dimittis,” which in Latin simply means “Now Dismiss,” because of the first words of the song in Latin. Like many things in Latin it sounds more impressive before you translate it into English.
This Song of Simeon, of course, is also the song that we sing following the Lord’s Supper. We receive the Lord’s body and blood with the bread and wine and then we sing that we have seen the Lord’s salvation. This salvation is veiled in the humble bread and wine of the Supper. We behold this salvation through faith and declare in joy that we have seen it with our own eyes.
There’s something similar going on with Simeon in Luke’s Gospel. Mary and Joseph have brought the baby Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem in order to offer the sacrifice prescribed by the Law. The reading from Exodus today explains the significance of this (Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15).
When the Lord brought the people of Israel up out of Egypt, the last plague that He inflicted on the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Egyptians was the killing of their first born sons. But, the blood of the Passover lamb marked the people of Israel to be saved so they did not suffer this plague. Their sons were spared, and so the Lord commanded that they forever consecrate their first born sons to Him in remembrance of their deliverance from slavery and death.
So, Mary and Joseph are doing everything according to the Law. They had Jesus circumcised on the eighth day, according to the Law, and now they are at the temple, according to the Law. Even as a baby, everything is being done according to the Law of God.
Now, on the day that they bring Jesus to the temple, Simeon has also come to the temple. He has been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” and has been told by the Holy Spirit that “he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” So, Simeon has been faithfully waiting for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah. And on this particular day he is brought to the temple by the Spirit on the same day that Mary and Joseph have brought Jesus the Christ to the temple.
When Simeon saw Jesus, he knew he was the Christ. It was revealed to him by the Spirit. It was not something that Simeon through his own power could have known, because to outward eyes Jesus looked like just another baby, the firstborn of a young couple who had come to offer the required sacrifice. But, Simeon saw through this veil of flesh to see the Lord’s Christ. Simeon saw in this humble baby the Savior of all mankind, the one who would cause many to fall and rise in Israel.
Some would fall at the stumbling block of Jesus Christ because they could not believe that God would come to us in the flesh. They could not believe that God would die and rise for us. They could not believe that God could act or be this way. For them, Jesus becomes a “sign that is opposed.”
Some, however, would rise due to Jesus Christ, because through his death and resurrection Jesus causes us to rise from our graves also. Faith grasps hold of the promise of God given through Christ. So, for those with faith Jesus becomes a rallying sign, rather than a sign that is opposed.
So, despite outward appearances to the contrary, Simeon declared that this little baby that he held in his arms is the Lord’s Christ. He is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory for God’s people Israel.
That is to say that Jesus is the culmination of God’s promises to His people, the Church Israel. Jesus Christ is the glory of the Church, the one in whom God’s people place all their hopes and to whom they give glory and honor. He is the one revealed to us by the Holy Spirit as the Lord’s Christ, the one anointed by the Lord to bring us salvation. And Christ is also a light to the Gentiles, a word which means nations. He brings the nations out of their darkness and into the light of God’s grace.
To understand this, we have to remember that in the Bible, there are only two types of people or nations. There is Israel, which is God’s nation, His people. Then there is everyone else. This group is called the “Goyim,” which means “gentiles,” which also simply means “nations.” So, there’s God’s nation Israel, the Church, and then there are the gentiles, the nations outside of God’s people. When you read in the Bible the word Gentiles or nations, it means basically everyone who is not part of the Church.
So, Simeon proclaims Jesus the Christ as a light for revelation to the nations. This is because Christ reveals God to the nations and brings the faithful of these nations into God’s nation, the Church Israel. Through Jesus Christ comes the salvation that God has prepared in the presence of all peoples, and Simeon has beheld this salvation in the person of Jesus Christ whom he is holding in his arms as a little baby. He is the only-begotten Son of God, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn of the dead, come to save us from death and redeem his creation. And Simeon is holding all this in his arms as he holds the little baby Jesus.
Simeon’s faith saw past the outward appearances of the helpless baby to behold the Lord’s Christ. His faith saw past what seemed lowly and weak to see the Lord’s salvation. But, not everyone sees all this.
To some people, it is incomprehensible that the Lord would be born to the Virgin as a baby. To some people, it is incomprehensible that the cross of Christ is the way in which God atoned for our sins and reconciled us to Him. To some people, it is incomprehensible that Christ would rise from the dead to defeat sin and death and the devil. All these things seem weak and lowly and inconceivable in the eyes of the world, and yet despite outward appearances God was acting through the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Father’s firstborn Son, to bring us back to him.
Do you see, then, the connection with the Lord’s Supper and why we also sing this song after Communion? We declare, like Simeon, that despite outward appearances we have seen the Lord’s salvation. Simeon beheld the Lord’s Christ in the humble baby. We behold the Lord’s Christ in the humble bread and wine in the confines of the humble Church.
Not everyone sees Christ in the bread and wine, but we declare that he is there and thank the Lord that He has let our own eyes see His salvation. Each week we receive the Lord’s Christ and then give thanks for the Lord letting us depart in his peace after seeing with our own eyes his salvation. We also will not see death before we have seen the Lord’s Christ, because we have already seen him.
Likewise, often the Church herself seems weak and despised in the world. The Church of Christ does not have earthly armies or power that the world recognizes as power. The Church is spread throughout the whole earth and often seems very fractured and divided. The Church in some places consists of just a few faithful souls against a mass of people for whom Christ remains a sign to be opposed.
And yet, in this Church of Christ God is redeeming His people as He dwells in our midst. The glory of the Church is veiled, only to be revealed at the end of the age when Christ also comes in glory. But, even now our eyes have seen the Lord’s Christ before we have seen death. And after death we will again see the Lord’s Christ.
So, God has done wondrous and gracious things for us through Jesus Christ. Christ came to die and rise for us. And Christ came to dwell among us. He did that as the baby born to Mary, and he continues to do this in Word and Sacrament today. Christ is still here with us, dwelling with us. We are still beholding Christ with eyes of faith. He is still a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to God’s people Israel; as the light of Christ shines through the Church onto the people of the nations so that all people may come to faith and also behold the Lord’s Christ and become part of the Church Israel.
So, like Simeon and like Anna we too have see the Lord’s Christ. We have beheld him with our own eyes and therefore we continue to sing praises and give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who are waiting for redemption, because this redemption has arrived in Jesus the Christ and you have seen it with your own eyes. You are his witnesses. Amen.