Ordinarily this Sunday would be the fourth Sunday in Epiphany. But today, February 2, is also a major feast of the Church. No, I don’t mean Groundhog Day; I mean The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
In the Gospel of Luke, immediately after Jesus’ birth, his parents took him to Jerusalem to present him at the Temple. (By the way, if you ever stop to compare Matthew and Luke, you might wonder where they found the time or the foolhardy daring to go to Jerusalem when they were supposed to be sneaking away from King Herod! In fact, Luke goes on to tell us that immediately afterwards they didn’t go to Egypt at all but returned to Nazareth. But our brand of Christian faith does not require that we get every detail of these stories to harmonize.)
What people remember most from the story are the reactions of the devout, elderly man Simeon and the prophet Anna who were in the temple when the family arrived. (Notice: There were in fact women prophets!)
Simeon responds with what people now call (no surprise) the Song of Simeon, though in ancient times, when I was in college, we called it the Nunc Dimittis.
Lord you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior,
whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
a light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
You get the impression that perhaps Luke told the story so he could introduce us to this song. It’s one of the most repeated songs in Christian worship. People who pray Evening Prayer or Compline recite it or sing it every evening. And there are more people who do that than you might think.
Think about the meaning of the song. Like Simeon we too have glimpsed a foretaste of what we hope to see everywhere some day: every people and nation shining with the light of peace and justice that began to shine in Israel. Like Simeon, we will probably live our whole lives waiting for this, but only getting a foretaste—maybe some important breakthroughs, but a great deal still left unfinished. That’s life, it seems. For Simeon the foretaste was reward enough to make the waiting worthwhile. Is it enough for us?