Sunday, December 31, 2017
The Nunc Dimittis

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.’ There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him. Luke 2:22-40

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The Gospel passage from Luke contains the duel testimony of Simeon and Ana. This is the only place in the four Gospels that you will find this story and is part of a longer narrative, surrounding the birth story, that is exclusive to Luke. So that begs the question, “Why does Luke think these two people’s story is important and Matthew, Mark and John, not so much?” This is a part of Bible study that, in my experience, most people do their best to avoid. Some think that questions like this put the authority of Scripture to the test. I couldn’t disagree more. Scripture is like a huge jigsaw puzzle. Everything has it’s place. Some pieces are very similar, part of a larger part of the puzzle and other pieces are more exclusive. When we engage these understandings, doors are opened to a broader understanding of God’s Word.

So is this an oral tradition handed down that Luke found that no one else had heard? Is this a teaching story that Luke has created to make points that, while evident, don’t have an historical story behind them. For those who read in full my Christmas Homily, you all know that Tony was a character created in my mind. But that doesn’t mean that Tony’s story wasn’t true, wasn’t important to hear, wasn’t crucial to our understanding of how we are all linked together.

Simeon’s words (The Nunc Dimittis in BCP Evening Prayer) are words of testimony for Jesus. Ana’s words add a perspective, a voice not usually heard, in that a widow who lived in the Temple was not likely to be given much stature in discourse. It also continues Luke’s pattern of doublets, which is why I tend to think this is a teaching story. Gabriel appeared to two women with stories of two babies that would each be a surprise in their own way and both would have unexpected names. Now we have two separate testimonies as to who Jesus really was.

Reading Scripture shouldn’t be a chore, it should be life giving. Far too many people have told me they couldn’t read the Bible because they couldn’t understand. Most of that is trying to read stories from different times, different cultures, translated by scholars who weren’t necessarily interested in making it readable, rather they were looking for accuracy.

So, I’m suggesting we all begin this New Year to read the Bible. I’m suggesting you purchase, or read on line, from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.” It is a paraphrase, rather than a translation. Peterson, a Presbyterian scholar, who has worked in an Anglican seminary, is widely respected in the theological community. What he has done is, first translate the Scriptures from the original languages, and then tried to render them in contemporary language, phrases and symbols. It will open the Bible to you in new ways. Start with the Gospels, then read them again. Then read an Epistle or two and maybe an Old Testament book, then back to the Gospels. Slowly, but surely work your way through the entire Bible. Questions? Come ask me. Observations? Share them with me and others.

Scripture is foundational to what we do, so we need to “all” have a working knowledge of what the Bible has to say.

The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery