Dec 28, 2010

A Light to the Nations

He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
     and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

The Gospel of Luke is unique among the biblical Gospels in its narration of several events in the life of the boy Jesus. One of these events included the presentation by Mary of a purification offering as required in the Mosaic law (see Lev 12:8). While Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in the Temple courts, they encountered a man named Simeon. He was "righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah" (2:25). In fact, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would "not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah" (2:26). When Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

     "Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
         as you have promised.
     I have seen your salvation,
          which you have prepared for all people.
     He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
          and he is the glory of your people Israel!" (2:29-32)

This prayer of praise is sometimes called the Nunc Dimittis, from the first two words of the Latin version (nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine, "Now dismiss your servant, Lord.") It makes explicit something that has been a minor theme in the birth narrative to this point: that Jesus has come, not just for Israel, but also for "all people." As Simeon prays, "He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel" (2:32). Israel has not been forgotten here, but the Messiah's revelation and salvation will be for all human beings.

Simeon quotes a stirring passage in Isaiah 49. Here the Lord speaks to his special Servant: "You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (49:6). Simeon sees that Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophetic promise. He will be the one who shines God's light for all nations and brings God's salvation to all people.

We who know God through Jesus celebrate that fact that he is the light for all people. We confess that, in Jesus, we know God more fully than in any other way. We also accept the calling to reflect the light of Jesus into the world. Indeed, Jesus himself said that his followers are "the light of the world" (Matt 5:14). We shine divine light into the world when our "good deeds" reflect the love, truth, and grace of God in Christ.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you think Simeon felt as he praised God while holding the infant Jesus? How has Jesus shown the light of God into your life? How are you reflecting this light into your part of the world?

PRAYER: Gracious God, with Simeon, I praise you for your salvation offered to all people, including me. I praise you for Jesus, who reveals your light to the nations.

Help me, dear Lord, to live in this light each day. And help me, I pray, to reflect this light into my corner of the world.

All praise be to you, God of grace and God of Glory, God of light and God of salvation! Amen.

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