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The Nunc Dimittis


Or, A Christmas Call to Consolation
Luke 2:21-38
December 26, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins



Introduction

Here we are on the last Lord’s Day of the year, during the sermon part of Consecration, the part of our liturgy which focuses on setting us apart to the Lord. Consecration belongs with our sanctification; we are being conformed into greater Christlike holiness and transformed into greater Christlike glory. There has maybe been no greater test of my sanctification this past year than following the Snohomish Health District on Twitter.

Hold that in mind for a moment, because it connects to it being the day after Christmas, the day after our feasting over the Incarnation of God’s Son. Perhaps today is a tough day because you spent most of your energy getting ready for, and hopefully then enjoying, your day yesterday. Often, when a big event is done, it’s tempting to want to be all done.

What you may need is comfort, consolation. Because the Lord is the one in charge, He decides when we are done, and when He has more for us to do.

The SnoHD knows that the last couple years have been tough for people (not self-aware enough to consider how they have played a part in that). But to help us out, they’ve been sharing every week under the hashtag #WallpaperWednesday images of snowflakes or sunsets or cozy couches with some sentimental comment like a cat poster. Last Wednesday’s wallpaper was a cup with a peppermint stick in a festive setting with the words “comfort and joy.” No source or reason for either, just an exhortation to share comfort and joy with others rather than your (usual) jerk self. You can see what a test that could be.

True consolation, not as in a second place prize, but as comfort, the easing of grief and burden and pain, only comes in the Savior, Jesus Christ. He must be named, He must be believed. There is no other hope.

Jesus is called “the consolation of Israel” in Luke 2. He was identified by a man named Simeon, by the Holy Spirit, in the passage following the angelic army choir celebrating Christ’s birth. In this advent season we’ve looked at the Annunciation, the Magnificat, the Birth in Bethlehem, and the shepherds receiving the good news of great joy. The next paragraphs happen a little more than a week and a month later. We’re post Christmas. God is still in flesh, and yet there is a ways to go.

As in the previous messages we’ll look at the story, a doctrine, and a use.

The Nunc Dimittis – Luke 2:21-38

All the law is being fulfilled by Joseph and Mary. They name their son Jesus, they have him circumcized at the right time (eight days later), and they present their first-born at the Temple (according to Exodus 13:2), while making Mary’s purification offering forty days after the birth (according to Leviticus 12:6). The turtle-doves were a poor man’s option, confirming that Joseph was not wealthy in worldly terms.

At the Temple they were met by a man named Simeon. Luke identifies Simeon as “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him” (verse 25). It is somewhat unique that the Spirit was upon him, and the phrase “consolation of Israel” is definitely unique. Consolation is a cognate of the well-known Greek word parkletos. The comfort of Israel is not a phrase found in any other passage; Anna, in the next paragraph, calls Jesus the “redemption of Israel.” In Jesus Isaiah’s words ring true: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1).

The part that really stands out is verse 26:

It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Though not identified as a prophet or a priest, nor necessarily as an old man, the impression is that Simeon had been given special, supernatural revelation by God, and had been waiting for a long time. The same Spirit took Simeon to the Temple on the right day, the day when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus. Simeon knew right away.

he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

“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,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.

“Now…you are letting…depart” in Latin is nunc dimittis. It’s the third of the hymn-like sayings in Luke, after Mary’s Magnificat and Zechariah’s Benedictus. Simeon needs nothing else, he’s ready to go.

Salvation is for the world. Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), and this “light” is for two things: 1) “revelation to the Gentiles,” bringing them understanding, and 2) “glory to your people Israel.” The Messiah is from the line of David; He’s a Jew. He will reign over the house of Jacob (Luke 1:32-33). He will be a help to His servant – Israel (1:54), from the God of Israel (1:68).

Jesus is the Cornerstone for all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile (Romans 1:16). And, not all of Jesus’ people received Him at His first coming (John 1:11). Simeon will tell Mary in a moment that Jesus is a watershed and yet that doesn’t change the promises. The light will spread in the church until the fullness of Gentiles comes in and then a future generation of Israel will repent and receive Jesus as Lord (Romans 11:25).

Joseph and Mary marveled (2:33), and Simeon prophesied directly to Mary about the future end of her baby’s life. Simeon has no word for Joseph.

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (34-35)

These are effects of the cornerstone metaphor, though Simeon doesn’t specifically refer to Jesus as the stone as other passages do (think 1 Peter 2:4-8). But those who are built on the rock rise and those who stumble over it will fall.

This exposure continues today, among Jews and non-Jews. Men, no matter how much they imagine, are not the judges of Jesus. When they put themselves in the judge’s seat they show which side they’re on. Their hearts are constantly being revealed.

The next paragraph concerns a prophetess named Anna, of the (lost) tribe of Asher. She had dedicated her life to service after becoming a widow, perhaps 60 or more years. She also was brought at the right time by the Spirit to see Jesus and when she recognized Him, she “began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel” (2:38).

There’s not much reason for Luke to mention Anna other than to corroborate that some did recognize and rejoice. God did not leave Himself without witness, and two witnesses was the minimum (Deuteronomy 19:15).

Doctrine – Providence

We believe that God is sovereign, and the doctrine of providence means that He has decided every element of every event, the timing and the agents and the outcome. It’s called providence, His protective care.

From Chapter 5 on Providence in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, (Hbr 1:3); direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, (Dan 4:34-35; Psa 135:6; Act 17:25-28; Job 38-41); from the greatest even to the least, (Mat 10:29-31); by His most wise and holy providence, (Pro 15:3; Psa 104:24; Psa 145:17); according to His infallible fore-knowledge, (Act 15:8; Psa 94:8-11); and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, (Eph 1:11; Psa 33:10-11); to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy, (Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Gen 45:7; Psa 145:7).

In this passage in Luke 2, it is not mere coincidence that Simeon comes to the temple on the same day, or that Anna had been there serving.

Jesus was born in “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4). He will later be delivered over and crucified by the predestined plan of God (Acts 4:28). This redemption was at “the proper time” (1 Timothy 2:6).

Use – A Christmas Call to Consolation

The previous uses have been what you should practice: faith, praise, expressible joy. This is a call to what you should receive. Come and get it.

Just as joy is related to salvation, so consolation is related to providence.

There are hard providences. Simeon was both excited, and exhausted, waiting to see the Messiah. Anna may not have been a witness without having been a widow. Mary was the most blessed, and also the difficulties of traveling and delivering a baby were the least of her burdens. They would soon be told to escape to Egypt. They would receive reports of baby boys two and under being slaughtered by Herod. She watched many reject her Son, and then watched Him be crucified. She was favored by God, and yet a sword pierced her heart.

Remember Romans 8:28. Remember that Jesus Himself is redemption and consolation. In Him we have forgiveness for our sins, in Him we have eternal life, in Him we have hope, in Him we have glory.

He has also sent His Spirit to dwell in us, to seal us for an eternal inheritance. That Spirit is the Paraclete, the Comforter.

Do you have to wait? Have you lost something, someone, that hurts so much? Simeon was ready to die, it seemed to him that it was time to be done. You might, in God’s providence, not be done yet.

Christmas is a call to persevere, to keep going, under God’s providential care.

But this promise and peace only come from Christ. They do not come from a new app, a better relationship, a profitable business, a more healthy body. Those can be part of good things given by God, but He alone can comfort your soul. When you get sick. how long you’re sick. When the world is crazy, and when it has much common grace.

Conclusion

We are staring down the final days of this calendar year.

We are waiting for the second advent of the Son, the reign of the King forever. We live by faith, we see glimpses of the connections by providence, and we seek to walk in the strength of His Spirit.

He continues to reveal our hearts. May we be blessed by Him.


Charge

The light of Christ has come. You have His Spirit in You, You have His Word in front of you. Walk in the Spirit. Meditate on the Scripture. Give yourself to Him. Go to Him for grace and comfort. He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort. He’s sent His Son, do all in His name.

Benediction:

And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. (Acts 20:32, ESV)