Every Day Christmas


In the Gospel of Luke chapter 2, we find the account of Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple to be presented and blessed.  

This was part of Jewish tradition in the first century and would have occurred when Jesus was 40 days old. 

The story relates how, as the Holy Family approached the Temple, they met two fascinating characters: A holy man named Simeon and a prophetess named Anna.  

Both of these people were incredibly faithful in practicing their Jewish faith, and both prayed constantly at the Temple for the "consolation of Israel."  This meant that they were expectantly and fervently awaiting the coming of the Messiah and the liberation of Israel from foreign oppression. 

When Simeon meets the Holy Family and sees Jesus, he exclaims that he has seen the Messiah and offers this prayer: 

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss[d] your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

This prayer was given a name in Latin: Nunc Dimittis.  

The phrase translates, "Now lettest thou depart."  It's been part of Christian liturgy in the Catholic Mass and the Orthodox tradition for centuries.  Protestants (like me) often use this prayer as part of the Commendation in a funeral service.  

I love that this prayer is prayed and sung in many aspects of Christian worship.  It reflects what it means to embrace the meaning of Christmas and the epiphany that comes after encountering Christ.  

The 16th-century poet and pastor John Donne wrote a sermon for the Feast of St. Simeon, and this passage from that sermon resonates with me: 

Make good your Christmas day, that Christ be born in you, and he who died for you will live with you all the year, and all the years of your lives, and inspire unto you, and receive from you at the last gasp, this blessed acclamation: "Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace..." 

Donne's vision of the glory of Christmas living within us "all the year, and all the years" gives me great joy and no small amount of hope.  

One of the liturgical choices I make at every funeral that I officiate is to end the service with a benediction that includes these words: 

"Know that the God who breathed life into you when you were born will most certainly be with you when you breathe your last." 

The knowledge that the Christ of Christmas is within you and all around you all the years of your life is one of the great lessons of the Season of Epiphany, which follows Christmas and leads us to Lent. 

Like Simeon, we can confidently say that no matter what happens next, we have seen salvation, and our salvation is present within us now, even as it was first made known so long ago. 

Every day of our lives is Christmas Day in this way of thinking.  Christ is born again within us every single morning, along with the renewed mercies of God, who loves us, cherishes us, and chooses us.  

May this give you great joy today and every day from now on.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

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