22 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.
25 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. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.27 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,28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Nouwen tells us of his struggle when he reads a passage like this – the temptation to analyse intellectually rather than to simply be there. I pondered this approach back on Day 4.
With a familiar story like this one, it is all to easy to recite the words of the Nunc Dimittis by rote. Anyone who has grown up with the Book of Common Prayer service of Evensong, or indeed who uses the current Common Worship service of Compline, will be used to it. It is perhaps easy to start worrying about the shopping list, work deadlines or your tax return – those things we have left undone… But I do find that when I actually stop to listen – to myself, or to a choir, and actually contemplate the words, I realise that this truly marks the end of Israel’s Advent, if they but knew it. An old man, realising that this was not just the Messiah for one oppressed people, but the Messiah for the whole world.
I was so tempted to indulge my love of Howells again here with the Collegium Regale setting of the Nunc Dimittis, but here’s something else – the Geoffrey Burgon version made famous by Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy. One unlikely hero – an old, balding man – with music written about another – a baby barely days old.