I have in my office a photo of Lord Michael Ramsey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, holding a child he baptized (the child of some old friends). It is a splendid picture. The Lord Archbishop had an interesting face. Nearly bald, with long and unruly eyebrows, a face marked with age's lines, wrinkles, and uneven color, this man's was in stark contrast to the face of the child he held. The baby was the antithesis of the old man's visage.
It is this picture that comes to mind when I envision how it must have looked with old Simeon, waiting in the Temple, reached for the baby Mary carried in her arms. It must have been startling to this Mother to have someone unknown to them, stop them, and lay claim to the child in her arms. It must have been jarring, even to her who pondered all these things in her heart, to hear the words of prophecy about Him who was set for the rising and falling of many and whose life would include a sword for the heart of His Virgin Mother.
Then to hear the old man suddenly break out into song -- a song of death no longer put off but welcomed because the life long spent in waiting had been fulfilled in the vision of this Child who was Israel's glory and the Light even to draw the Gentiles to the Most High.
We have a fellow in our congregation who somewhat reminds me of old Simeon. He has served as an assisting minister in the past. I remember one time when, after reading the Epistle, he suddenly broke out into song. I was startled. I was standing in the pulpit expecting the common Alleluia verse and he broke out into chant of sorts, singing the particular Alleluia verse. It was unexpected and startling but not altogether unwelcome. Could Mary and Joseph have thought the very same thing?
Candlemas, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of our Lord, is not simply an annual feast. It is the regular feast day of those who meet the Lord in the Eucharist each week. It was Lutheran genius which cemented the Nunc Dimittis in its place as a post-communion canticle. The fourth century Apostolic Constitutions mentions it, the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom includes it among the concluding prayers, the Mozarabic liturgy includes it. Its placement here may be due to Wilhelm Loehe. It is in our Liturgy and Agenda of 1917. Few are the distinctive Lutheran changes to the ordinary or even to the entire Mass but this is one of them. It has caught on as a natural. And it is strategically placed to bring our rejoicing into its proper focus as the service swiftly flows to its conclusion.
And well it fits. We come like Simeon, to await the revelation of the Father who shows us Himself through His Son. Having beheld the Son, who is the glory of the Father, we see the face that reflects to us the glory and hope of Israel over many ages and generations. We also see the face that opens the door to the Gentiles (the goyim) who were once set apart but now by His grace are among the gathered whom God calls His own.
We see like Simeon saw, in the unlikely places of bread and wine, the face of this Savior, long promised and now near. He has come to deliver to us the Kingdom, to bestow upon us the priceless gifts we neither deserve nor dare ask of the Father. He has come to fulfill the bidding of the prophets, the demands of the Law, and the promise of the Father. We see Him not as a child in the arms of His Mother but as flesh hidden in bread and blood hidden in wine. But He is there -- every bit as much as He was so long ago on that day when Simeon saw his hope fulfilled.
And in response, our lives have changed. Like Simeon of old who had put off death until He had seen the face of the Father in this face of His one and only Son, so have our lives been transformed by the vision of this Christ in bread and wine. His body and His blood come to us as the true and essential food of heaven in earthly element -- to be adored and then to be eaten and drunk as His Word bids us. Our lives have changed. The end we once feared is no longer the object of fear. The death that once stole life from us has become the door and portal to life everlasting which no one and nothing can steal from us. The life that once was guarded is now freely lived today for His glory and in the tomorrow of His grace that never ends (the grace or the tomorrow).
Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace... Ah, the peace of promise fulfilled, grace undeserved, mercy beyond measure, life stronger than death, and forgiveness for each and every sin... Let me go in peace, according to Your Word... For my very own eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared in the sign of every and all people... in many and various ways glimpsed of old but now in fullness dwelling among Your people, the Emmanuel... A light to reveal You to the nations (Gentiles, goyim) making the people who stood outside Your grace now the people of Your promise... and the glory of Your people Israel, among whom Temple, Ark, Prophet, and Covenant are no more except in the flesh and blood of Jesus... Glory to You! Glory to Father. Glory to Son. Glory to Holy Spirit. Glory to You from the beginning of all that is until its ending... Glory to You!
When I look up at this picture of Lord Michael holding the child in his arms... I see the image of Simeon... the blessed Child Jesus... and my ears are filled with the song of Church has sung in the presence of this wonderful Redeemer since Simeon first taught us the words...