This is the last post in our series ‘Song of the Incarnation” we’ve been working through in this advent season 2010. You can find our posts here for Mary’s Song, Zechariah’s Song, and the Angels Song.
The Song of Simeon, or “Nunc Dimittis” as it is known from the Latin has been sung by the church for over 1500 years. It is one of the famous infancy canticles. Paul Westermeyer in his “Te Deum” says that it has been used in the daily prayer of the church since the 4th century. During the Reformation Calvin’s church sang this during communion, but today you’d be hard pressed to find many churches singing it. Hopefully the suggestions below can remedy that.
In this scene Luke shows us a devout Jew named Simeon, who upon seeing the young Jesus in the temple is filled with the Holy Spirit and breaks out in spontaneous praise. A prayer rooted in the words of scripture, prophecies woven together from pieces of 2nd Isaiah (40:5; 42:6; 46:13; 52:10).
Here is the text from Luke 2:25-35
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
In the gospel message there is an intertwined narrative of judgment as well as of salvation. Simeon illustrates that Jesus will be both a great light to the Gentiles, as a well as a sword that would pierce our hearts. We can never experience the joy of Jesus without first facing the sinful thoughts and actions of our own hearts. Part of the good news of the gospel is that it helps us understand the horror of our sin as we find ourselves in the arms of our loving Savior.
Musical settings of this text often only focus on the blessing of verses 29-32, leaving out the beauty and covenantal completion of verses 34, and 35. Here is my attempt (listen to the version consolation below)
Behold this child will pierce your heart
His Word will be a sword
A sign opposed to hearts concealed
And grace for heaven’s adored
Suggestions for use:
>Sing some form of this song during the Lord’s Supper
>Sing this song with your children as part of their evening or bedtime worship. (It is traditionally sung during Anglican compline (late evening worship).
>Sing this as a song of departure during advent and Christmas.
Dr. Phil Ryken – Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis: Expectantly Waiting to See the Christ (ByFaith)
T.S. Eliot Poem – ‘A Song for Simeon‘
(copyright note: many of these versions require permissions)