So this is Christmas, And what have you done. Another year over, And a new one just begun.
A very merry Christmas, And a happy New Year. Let’s hope it’s a good one. Without any fear.
John Lennon, “so this is Christmas.” No offense to Lennon fans, but this is really not one of my favorite songs, not least because we hear it every year on the radio played as a “Christmas song,” and I’m pretty sure it isn’t a Christmas song or not a very good one. But the real reason it drives me nuts every year is twofold.
First, it starts off the holiday season, especially new years, with guilt. “Another year over, what have you done???” Got to say, I don’t really need that, I suppose it can be a friendly reminder occasionally to use my time well, but every year during the holiday is a little much.
The second is that line, “let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.” Going into the New Year we have a pretty good idea of what the year will be like. Until the Lord comes back this New Year will have its fair share of good days and happy moments. It will also have a fair share of days when we just hurt and days we wish would just go away. There may be a day this year, we expect or don’t expect, when the Lord will call us home to be with Him. Then there will be the lion’s share of days that are filled with the day in and day out, everyday kind of regular and routine life. Will there be fear this year, of course, we can’t get away from that, it’s part of life.
I really believe that this kind of Lennon-like attitude, going in with guilt on one end and wishful imagining on the other, is not the best song to sing going into the New Year. Instead, tonight there is a very different kind of song I would like for you to take with you as you travel into the New Year.
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”
This is the prophetic Song of Simeon, sung as He holds the small child Jesus in his arms in the temple before His naming and circumcision. Simeon was a devout and righteous man whose life work was at temple waiting and preparing to meet the long-awaited Messiah. There really isn’t much that we know about Simeon. Many commentators have speculated that he was an aged man who had waited these many years to see the promised one and now that he has seen Jesus, he sings of God’s promised release in Jesus, so that now he can die and be with the Lord in Heaven. This assumption, of Simeon being an old man ready to die, is what sets the tone for the English translation of this verse, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace,” which feels very much like a funerary goodbye.
The name of Simeon’s Song, Nunc Dimittis, is named after its first words in Latin, meaning ‘Now you dismiss” from the Greek Word ἀπολύεις (apolyeis). When you look through the New Testament another way of translating the root of this word is “to set free.” Think of Simeon a different way, whether old or younger, it doesn’t matter so much. He has been waiting for the Lord to set him free from His time of waiting, waiting for the Lord to deliver on His promises and bring his redemption to the world and to Simeon’s life. Now, there in his very own hand’s is the baby Jesus, God’s promised Messiah, right here and right now. Simeon’s time of waiting is over; he has been set free in Jesus! To do what, die? Maybe, but I’ve never quite liked that thought. How about freedom to live in Christ? Now it is time for Simeon to live in that freedom and to sing God’s praises in His life because of Jesus who is the light to the Gentiles (sing to the Gentiles!) and the promised glory of Israel (sing to Israel!) . Simeon was free to sing the song of the redeemed.
Whether we are young or old, sometimes we find ourselves waiting to be free to sing our song. Sometimes it is because of a habit of sinning that continues to dog us and we sometimes think that “if only I was rid of that habit I could really sing for Jesus.” Sometimes we think that if I wasn’t so tired, or depressed or anxious (that last one is for me!) then I could really start singing. But when we do that we fall into the Lennon-like trap of getting all guilty over what hasn’t been working and waiting for a pie in the sky utopia were everything is working just right so we can start singing our song, that simply doesn’t work. We know this New Year will have its share of sin and success, temptation and triumph, it will not be a perfect year. But in Jesus we have a life to live and a song to sing no matter what the year brings.
This is the song of the Redeemed. We have been set free from the power of sin, death and the devil, hell no longer holds any sway over us but we live in the promise of God’s peace and forgiveness. The fullness of God in the little child Jesus sets us free to sing…
to sing a song of forgiveness in the midst of our struggle. To sing a song of light in our darkness. To sing a song of hope in the midst of death. To sing a song of help in time of trouble. To sing a song of joy and beauty and salvation. It is the song of the redeemed that we don’t have to wait to sing because Jesus is holding us steady in his arms no matter what the year brings, we are the redeemed in Jesus and we get to sing his praises all year long!
This New Years, forget Lennon, sing the song of the redeemed with Simeon, because God has set you free to sing of his love for you and me.