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Simeon sang one of my favorite Christmas songs.

You may not think of Simeon’s Song—the Nunc Dimittis—as a chart-topping Christmas carol, but it’s become one of my favorites (not least because the odds of Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber releasing a duet cover of it are probably pretty low).

Indeed, it’s been a chart-topper for the Church for a long time now. The ancient Church sang Simeon’s song after hearing Scripture read. The Anglican Church prays it to close evening prayer. In John Calvin’s Genevan church, worship services would conclude with the Nunc Dimittis.

Why? Luke has us listen to aged Simeon sing to show us what a soul that’s responsive to Christmas Gospel looks like.

When the infant Jesus is just over a month old, his parents make the trip up to Jerusalem to dedicate his little life to the Lord. The Temple buzzes with traffic. Locals and out-of-owners come and go for services and sacrifices. Right in the middle of it all, old Simeon shuffles up to Joseph and Mary, his leathered face stung wet with tears. Simeon, whom Luke informs us knew that “he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah,” (Luke 2.26), gently takes Jesus in his arms, cradles his bobbling head in the crook of his elbow, looks him in the eyes, and sings:

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

Simeon’s song is a fitting lyric expression of how you respond when you see Jesus. Augustine of Hippo, in a sermon on Simeon’s song, notes that Simeon saw the infant Christ both with his soul, and with his eyes. And when his eyes had seen Jesus, God’s-salvation-in-person, he could close his eyes in peace. He had seen Jesus, and Jesus was all he ever needed to see in life. When you hear Jesus in the scriptures, when you dine with the Lord at the Table, when you attend to the presence of Christ at the close of the day, you can rest in peace.

On Christmas Day this past week, I sat at my dining room table, exhausted. I’d raced through a frenetic December. And in the months before December, navigated hellish ministry situations; felt anxious and misunderstood; grieved friends’ brushes with frail mortality; felt deeply alone.

But, this week, my family gathered in the arched expanse of Liberti’s sanctuary to hear the Christmas Gospel, announced by Isaiah, Luke, John. I preached, as best I could muster, the good news of great joy for all people. We ate and drank at the Lord’s Table. By flickering candlelight, we sang the reverent stanzas of Silent Night: “Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth…”

And then, we celebrated. We crammed new and old friends and neighbors into our rowhome, laughed and sang, slurped oysters and sipped punch, feasted and caroled late into the night.

Sitting at our family’s table on Christmas morning, recalling all the grace we sang, heard, and tasted, in the face of all the darkness we’d experienced, there was only one thing I could think to pray that fit the moment:

Lord, you now have set your servant free
to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

Jared Ayers

Jared Ayers and Monica, his wife, moved to Philadelphia in 2008 to start the Liberti Church, where Jared serves as founding and senior minister. He loves calling Philly home. They’ve been graced with two sons and a daughter.

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