Have you ever had to wait for something? A father had found the perfect gift for his son’s 13th birthday. He got the gift months before the birthday. He was so excited about getting the “right” gift that he couldn’t help from enticing his son “your birthday is coming, wait until you see the gift I got you.”
As the months turned into weeks then days before his son’s birthday, the father would continue to build up the anticipation. The son was waiting — very patiently especially for a 12 year old. The birthday finally arrived and the father gave him the gift. The father was excited. As his son opened the gift a huge smile appeared on his face. “Was it worth the wait?” the father asked. “Absolutely,” came the reply.
In the Gospel passage for today’s Mass, St. Luke tells us that Simeon was “awaiting the consolation of Israel.” Simeon was hoping for the day of the Lord to arrive, the day that would bring salvation to Israel. His hopes were realized when Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus to the Temple for the presentation. In that little baby, Simeon realized that the day of salvation that was dawning.
The recognition of the Lord in his midst filled his heart with joy. In response he proclaims the great song which we now call the Nunc Dimittis: “now Lord, you let your servant go in peace ….” In this song of praise, Simeon rejoices and acclaims that the promises the Lord had made to Israel are now being fulfilled. The long wait is over.
Simeon encounters Jesus and recognizes salvation. The readings for the Feast of the Presentation help us to appreciate the great gift of Jesus and the life he offers us. The first reading from Malachi anticipates the Lord’s arrival: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me; and suddenly there will come to the Temple the Lord you seek.”
When Jesus arrives in the Temple he is recognized as the one through whom salvation comes. In the life of Israel the Temple was seen as a special dwelling place of God. It once housed the ark of the covenant which symbolized Israel’s special relationship with the Lord. God dwelt in the Temple. Jesus’ arrival signals a new dwelling place where God is encountered, that is in Jesus himself.
The Letter to the Hebrews speaks of the salvation won through Jesus’ death: that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life; that Jesus might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God and expiate the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. The consolation of Israel is the redemption won by Christ. He delivers her from death, releases her from sin and frees her from fear. And at the same time, he delivers us from death, releases us from sin and frees us from fear.
We live a life won for us by Christ. One of our goals in life is to grow in ever greater awareness of the salvation we have received in and through Christ. One way in which we can grow in this awareness is to reflect regularly on the blessings we receive from the Lord in our lives.
Night time, just before going to sleep, is a good time for this reflection having just completed another day in our life. The church’s Liturgy of the Hours, the communal prayer of the church prayed at different times during the day, includes Compline or “Night Prayer.” This particular “hour” (not referring to the length of time but rather the time it is prayed) includes an examination of conscience, recitation of a psalm and the “Nunc Dimittis.”
The practice helps us to be actively aware of God’s blessings and his mercy that we experience every day. Even if one does not feel they could commit to the entire office, the Nunc Dimittis is a great way to end the day praising God for His goodness and for the life he has won for us: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
The text for Compline and all the Liturgy of the Hours is available at DivineOffice.org as well as many other websites and apps for mobile devices.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.