Reader: “I have seen your salvation,”
Response: “which you have prepared for all people.”
Scripture: Luke 2:21-40
Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
Then it was time for their purification offering, as required by the law of Moses after the birth of a child; so his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. The law of the Lord says, “If a woman’s first child is a boy, he must be dedicated to the Lord.” So they offered the sacrifice required in the law of the Lord—“either a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
Anna, a prophet, was also there in the Temple. She was the daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher, and she was very old. Her husband died when they had been married only seven years. Then she lived as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer. She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.
When Jesus’ parents had fulfilled all the requirements of the law of the Lord, they returned home to Nazareth in Galilee. There the child grew up healthy and strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
As we mentioned the other day, Jesus’ parents were devout observant Jews, meaning they obeyed the Jewish law. According to the law, baby boys were circumcised and given their name on the eighth day after their birth. Why so specific about this particular day? It’s in accordance with the law and as it turns out, there is a good medical reason as well. Normally, prothrombin, the material that causes blood to clot reaches 100%, though not in the very first days after birth. On the eighth day it hits 110%, the only time it ever gets that high, and then settles back to the normal level. So circumcision on the eighth day allows the blood its maximum clotting potential. God thought of everything! The naming of the person is to reflect their character, hence Jesus means “God is salvation.” Then after his circumcision (it’s eight days since Christmas Day), Mary and Joseph went back to the Temple forty days later for the rite of purification (February 2nd is forty days). Again, this was according to the law that the first born belonged to the Lord. A sacrifice of redemption was offered. Apparently Mary and Joseph were poor as their sacrificial offering was the offering of the poor. Normally the offering would be an unblemished lamb. If not a lamb, then two turtle doves or two pigeons. Having offered the two birds as redemption, Mary would later offer their Son, the Lamb of God, as the ultimate redemptive sacrifice. We are reminded of the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the place of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the words of Abraham, “God himself will provide the lamb for the whole burnt offering.” Simeon, who may or may not have been a priest, the text doesn’t say, was nevertheless a devout believer. The Holy Spirit has revealed to him he would not die before actually seeing the Messiah. On the particular day, that same Spirit told him to go to the Temple. When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to present him as the law required, Simeon immediately recognized who he had in his arms. Simeon’s words have been set musically many, many times. Though many translations say “die in peace,” the best translation is “depart or dismiss” in peace. Not death, but a departure from this life to the next. That is actually a better description of death for the believer. In his words are also the certainty that this little baby is the Savior of all peoples, tribes and nations. One final note, as the women were the first to proclaim the risen Savior, so here Anna, the devout elderly widow, was the first to talk about this six week old baby to all who had been waiting expectantly for God to come and rescue his people. What do we learn from this pericope? God works in the details. He is tuned to every life and every aspect of every life, including yours and mine.
Music: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace” Robert Shaw Festival Singers As you listen to this, scroll up to the bold text above. Though it is sung in Russian (it’s from Rachmaninoff’s Vespers) you will be able to follow. The soloist sings what you are looking at! Also listen very carefully at the end and you will hear the world famous low Russian basses- in this case Americans! By the way, this is the music sung in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. They are not big on overhead screens.
Bonus: “Now Let Thy Servant Depart in Peace” Chesnokoff Male Choir of Donskoy Monastery
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ma8NjcAUOg Note the stories of the Bible portrayed throughout the sanctuary of this Orthodox Church.
Prayer: The prayer of an English tin miner, Billy Bray (1794-1868) who was converted from a drunken, blaspheming life into an ardent evangelist. He is said to have spoken this prayer while waiting with his fellow miners to begin their shift in the mines.
Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready. Amen. ―Eerdman’s Book of Famous Prayers, p.113