If you happen to be from a tradition whose regular practice includes evening prayer services, then you are probably quite familiar with at least a portion of this text from Luke. The Nunc Dimittis, as it is called from its Latin Vulgate translation, is a canticle sung often in Vespers, Evensong, and Compline services. These services end each day with mediative prayer and prayerful reflection and song. The words “now you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word” (2:29) are a wonderful way to conclude the day resting in God’s peace and promises. It is no wonder those who have composed the liturgies of these prayer services over the years have been drawn to these words of Simeon. Regardless of one’s personal circumstance or the situation of the broader community and world, these words recenter the hearts and minds of worshipers on the peace and promise of God.
The truth of the proclamation of God’s promises and the peace that is found in them does not change from day to day or with the circumstances of life. So there is great value in repeating this truth in prayer daily. The wisdom of this repetition found in these prayer traditions and of engaging this scripture as prayer, should not be lost on preachers preparing themselves to proclaim a word from the Lord on the first Sunday after Christmas. In a year when so many lives that felt grounded and stable have been turned upside down, when the joys of Christmas in community with family and friends has been dramatically altered, when Christmastide will surely be marked by people going hungry and more people getting sick, proclaiming the truth of God’s promises that remain steadfast day in and day out is of utmost importance.
If you are preaching from Luke 2:22-40 this Sunday and you want to focus on God’s consistent and faithful promises that bring true peace, a few aspects of the text are worth highlighting. The first portion not to miss is that both Simeon and Anna have waited their entire lives for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Simeon and Anna’s righteousness in the waiting, their pious devotion in the delay, reveal a persistence and long-suffering that surely is demanded for any who journey with Jesus over the long-haul. Simeon was awaiting comfort and redemption for his people Israel, and God showed him that salvation in infant flesh. Recognizing a baby as God’s revelation took eyes to see and a heart to discern—eyes and a heart both trained no doubt through righteousness and devotion over the years. And the revelation of God’s salvation was greater than could be expected. This child had not only come for the consolation of Israel but also to be a light to the Gentiles. The promise fulfilled that produced peace for Simeon was a vision of salvation open for all.
A second aspect worthy of note is that Simeon and Anna recognized God’s promise kept in spite of it being so far from actual fulfillment. Jesus is but a baby, yet they know God is bringing about God’s redemption. Both of them will be gone before Jesus’s ministry gathers followers, before he is put to a cruel death, before he is gloriously raised, and before he sends the Spirit as the consolation or comforter for his followers. They praise God when they see the smallest sprout of God’s tree of salvation. They are not able to bask in the shade of the tree of life that Jesus will be. Nevertheless, they give thanks and praise for the Lord’s work. Sometimes the part of God’s promises we see fulfilled will be minimal, nevertheless it is worthy of praise.
A preacher on this first Sunday after Christmas may also find it valuable simply to acknowledge that God uses senior adults in this story to testify to the fulfilment of God’s promises. Our world so idolizes youth that we easily forget the ways God uses young and old to proclaim the good news of salvation and to praise God for it. In contrast to churches who so prioritize a young face on the platform that they forget the wisdom of those whose hair has lost its original pigment, this scripture highlights those who have spent their lifetimes in steadfast devotion to the Lord. Preachers would do well on this Sunday to name the need the church has not just for the young but also for the old when it comes to proclamation and praise.
A final point worthy of note is that a man and a woman in this story spread the word about the child of salvation. They both are empowered to testify to Jesus. They both become the preachers who proclaim the Christ. While many churches in the Wesleyan tradition have recognized the calling of both women and men to ordained ministry and to the particular calling of preaching, too often women’s voices have been suppressed, undervalued, and sometimes muted all together. From the beginning of Jesus’s life through the Spirit’s coming at Pentecost until now, women and men have been moved to proclaim the message of Christ to all who are looking for redemption. This first Sunday after Christmas is a prime time to remind all of the people in the room that God still calls and empowers women and men to the ministry of proclamation and praise. Perhaps this Sunday will be one where the sprout of a calling to ordained ministry will spring out of the fertile ground of the lives of boys and girls, of women and men, worshiping with you—whether on zoom, in the pews, or however you “gather” during this time.