Songs of Advent – the Song of Simeon

Sermon for Midweek Advent 3

+  Luke 2:29-32  +

29     “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
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.”
Songs of Advent.  The Song of Simeon. Nunc Dimittis – Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace.

This Third Song of Advent is really the fourth and final song of Advent, but we need to save the angels’ song for Christmas Eve, so we’ll take this one out of order.  The Song of Simeon – Nunc Dimittis – that should sound pretty familiar to you if you come to church regularly.  It’s a song that’s traditionally sung in every Evening Prayer service as it will be again tonight, and in most every Communion service. Has it ever occurred to you as you sang it, that you were singing a Song of Advent?  Have you ever stopped and wondered, “Why are we singing this song now? What does it mean?”

It’s simple, really. “O Lord, I’m ready to die now.”  How’s that for an Advent message?  But that’s exactly what it is.  Lord, I’m ready to die now, because of the Advent of your Son.

Luke tells us that Simeon had spent much of his life looking up, waiting in eager expectation for the consolation of Israel.  And God granted to Simeon an enormous reward for his faithful “looking up” as he trusted in God’s promise to send the Messiah. Somehow or other, the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah with his own eyes.

So, you see, Simeon was not ready to die – according to God’s own word – until he saw Christ’s Advent.  Until then, he was waiting for God’s word to be fulfilled, waiting with great expectation because he knew he would see it himself, and the older he got, the closer Christ’s Advent must be. Simeon was the servant; God was the Master. And Simeon the servant would wait and watch as long as the Master wanted to keep him on this earth, waiting and watching.

Finally, the waiting and watching paid off.  On that day – 40 days after Jesus’ birth – when Mary and Joseph took him to the temple in Jerusalem for the purification rites prescribed in the Law of Moses, the Holy Spirit directed Simeon to be there at the right place, at the right time, to meet his Maker. And somehow the Holy Spirit revealed to Simeon the true identity of that one-and-a-half month old boy.

He took the baby and cradled him in his arms and spoke the words of the song we now sing, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word. For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”  The word here for salvation is a special word.  It doesn’t necessarily mean, “I have seen the salvation take place.” What it does mean is, “I have seen the means of your salvation.”

So this is how God would do it!  This is how God would rescue Israel – and all peoples – from the curse of sin and death, from the bite of Eden’s serpent.  A baby, a child, the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head.  This is the means of God’s deliverance – God-made-man to redeem man from sin. God made an innocent mortal to die so that sinful mortals might live.

I have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”  That baby born in Bethlehem wasn’t a secret, kept hidden away from the world.  He came into the world and was there for all to see. Every Jew in the temple that day, every Gentile in Jerusalem could gaze on God’s means of deliverance. It’s just that very few recognized God’s salvation when they saw it.  The rest of the world saw only a baby, brought to the temple like countless other babies.  It took God’s revelation to Simeon to give him eyes of faith, to see in that baby the Advent of God’s salvation.

Christ himself was the revelation to the world of who God is, what God gives and where God forgives: He himself was, as Simeon sang, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.

To Simeon, it was crystal clear: “The Advent of Christ means that I can die in peace – my service on this earth can come to a peaceful end whenever you, O Master, are ready to call me to my heavenly rest. Because your word has now been fulfilled.  Your means of saving mankind from our dreadful sin has been born. All of your promises and prophecies have been wrapped up and put in one place – into this baby I’m holding in my arms, into this child whom my eyes now see.  Yes, Lord, I’m ready to die now, because your salvation has come and death cannot harm me anymore.”

Your eyes have seen God’s salvation, too, the same eyes of faith.  And you say, “Wait! I never got to see baby Jesus!  I never got to cradle him in my arms, like Simeon did.” But remember, Simeon saw a baby – nothing more.  Simeon didn’t see Jesus save anyone from anything. Only the eyes of faith – by God’s revelation – told him there was more to this baby than his natural eyes could see. 

You have seen the means of God’s salvation just as clearly as Simeon did. Because, what does God’s revelation in Scripture teach you?  Where does his Holy Spirit direct you to look up and see the means of your salvation? He directs you to a very specific time and place when water was poured over your head in the name of the Triune God: “Baptism now saves you”, he says.   He directs you to a very specific time and place when you hear the words of absolution: “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” “Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”  He directs you to a very specific time and place when you eat bread and drink wine in communion with Christ Jesus himself. “This is my body. This is my blood.”

And so we sing this Song of Simeon, this Song of Advent after Communion.  “Lord, now you let you servant depart in peace.” Because your eyes truly have seen God’s salvation – his means of deliverance – cradled, not in your arms but in your pastor’s hand to your hand or to your lips. There is Jesus, as surely as he was there in Simeon’s arms.  And we pray after communing, “Hear the prayer of your people, O Lord…that the eyes which have seen the coming of your Son may long for his coming again.”  There it is again, the Song of Simeon, the Song of Advent.  Lord, I’m ready to die now. Because I’ve seen your salvation and received the forgiveness of sins from him.

And we sing this song of Simeon, this Song of Advent, as a regular part of Evening Prayer, because now, as you go home and go to sleep, who knows for sure if you’ll wake up tomorrow? The Song of Simeon is the original bedtime prayer: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”  Don’t be frightened by the sleep of night or by the sleep of death!  Sing with Simeon, “Lord, I’m ready to die now.” Because to the believer, the sleep of death is just that – a sleep from which the voice of the Son of God will awaken you when he comes – at his Advent!

“Lord, I’m ready to die now, or I’m ready for you to come again.”  What a strange song of Advent, this Song of Simeon. What a beautiful song the Lord has inspired in his Word for you to sing and be at peace as you live out however many days on this earth that God, your Master, wishes you to live. You, the servant; He, the Master; Christ, your salvation. Look up and wait for his coming, and sing for joy at Christmas to the one whose birth makes even death a delight. Amen.

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