Monday, December 21, 2015

In the Picture: Simeon

Simeon’s Song of Praise
Aert De Gelder 1645-1727
Maritshuis, The Hague

Read: Luke 2.22-35
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘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.’

 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ 

Luke’s account of the events following Jesus’ birth is completely different from Matthew’s. There are no Magi, no mention of Herod or of the massacre of the children and therefore no need to flee into Egypt. Instead, the Holy Family return to Nazareth almost straight away.
Before heading back to Galilee, though, Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, to offer a sacrifice required by law for a firstborn son. They enter the Temple, just one ordinary family among many, but an old man, Simeon, who has been promised by God that he will see the Messiah before he dies, somehow spots them amidst the crowd. His song of praise, traditionally called the Nunc Dimittis, the Latin translation of its first  two words, is said or sung at Evensong every day.
Aert De Gelder’s depiction of this moment picks up on Simeon’s words that this child is “the light that enlightens the Gentiles”. He glows with what seems to be his own, heavenly light. Simeon warns Mary, however, that her child’s life will not be easy, and that it will bring her pain as well as joy.

  • Imagine you held the infant Jesus in your arms. What would your song be?
  • Think of the children you have known and have watched grow up – your own or those of friends or family. Have they grown up as you expected them to, or have they developed in ways you would not have predicted?

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