December 29, 2021
The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our first reading offers us John’s perfect honesty and simplicity:
Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments1 John 2:5-6
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.
Yes, it’s that simple and that hard!
Then, in our Gospel, we meet Simeon who speaks with the holy confidence of a long and well-lived life. His lifelong dream was that he might not die before seeing the Messiah. That dream now fulfilled, Simeon intones one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture:
Lord, now let your servant go in peace;Luke 2: 29-32
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
For as John also assures us:
Whoever says they are in the light,1 John 2: 9-10
yet hates their brother or sister is still in the darkness.
But whoever loves their brother and sister remains in the light …
Let’s pray today for those who are dying, that they may know this kind of peace.
Let us pray for ourselves, that when our time comes, we too may experience this confidence.
Poetry: Nunc Dimittis – Joseph Brodsky
(from Joseph Brodsky, A Part of Speech by George L. Kline (NY: Noonday, 1996)
The poem is long but exceptionally beautiful I hope you can take the time to enjoy it.
When Mary first came to present the Christ Child to God in His temple, she found—of those few who fasted and prayed there, departing not from it— devout Simeon and the prophetess Anna. The holy man took the Babe up in his arms. The three of them, lost in the grayness of dawn, now stood like a small shifting frame that surrounded the Child in the palpable dark of the temple. The temple enclosed them in forests of stone. Its lofty vaults stooped as though trying to cloak the prophetess Anna, and Simeon, and Mary— to hide them from men and to hide them from Heaven. And only a chance ray of light struck the hair of that sleeping Infant, who stirred but as yet was conscious of nothing and blew drowsy bubbles; old Simeon's arms held him like a stout cradle. It had been revealed to this upright old man that he would not die until his eyes had seen the Son of the Lord. And it thus came to pass. And he said: ‘Now, O Lord, lettest thou thy poor servant, according to thy holy word, leave in peace, for mine eyes have witnessed thine offspring: he is thy continuation and also the source of thy Light for idolatrous tribes, and the glory of Israel as well.' The old Simeon paused. The silence, regaining the temple's clear space oozed from all its corners and almost engulfed them, and only his echoing words grazed the rafters, to spin for a moment, with faint rustling sounds, high over their heads in the tall temple's vaults, akin to a bird that can soar, yet that cannot return to the earth, even if it should want to. A strangeness engulfed them. The silence now seemed as strange as the words of old Simeon's speech. And Mary, confused and bewildered, said nothing— so strange had his words been. He added, while turning directly to Mary: ‘Behold, in this Child, now close to thy breast, is concealed the great fall of many, the great elevation of others, a subject of strife and a source of dissension, and that very steel which will torture his flesh shall pierce through thine own soul as well. And that wound will show to thee, Mary, as in a new vision what lies hidden, deep in the hearts of all people.’ He ended and moved toward the temple's great door. Old Anna, bent down with the weight of her years, and Mary, now stooping gazed after him, silent. He moved and grew smaller, in size and in meaning, to these two frail women who stood in the gloom. As though driven on by the force of their looks, he strode through the cold empty space of the temple and moved toward the whitening blur of the doorway. The stride of his old legs was steady and firm. When Anna's voice sounded behind him, he slowed his step for a moment. But she was not calling to him; she had started to bless God and praise Him. The door came still closer. The wind stirred his robe and fanned at his forehead; the roar of the street, exploding in life by the door of the temple, beat stubbornly into old Simeon's hearing. He went forth to die. It was not the loud din of streets that he faced when he flung the door wide, but rather the deaf-and-dumb fields of death's kingdom. He strode through a space that was no longer solid. The rustle of time ebbed away in his ears. And Simeon's soul held the form of the Child— its feathery crown now enveloped in glory— aloft, like a torch, pressing back the black shadows, to light up the path that leads into death's realm, where never before until this present hour had any man managed to lighten his pathway. The old man's torch glowed and the pathway grew wider.
Music: Nyne Otpushchayeshi ~Sergei Rachmaninoff (translated Nunc Dimittis, Now Let Your Servant Go). This was sung at Rachmaninoff’s funeral, at his prior request. (For musicians among you, point of interest: Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchayeshi), has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C).