Ich habe genug – celebrating Candlemas

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Today is Candlemas – the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

As Mary and Joseph take their son to the Temple for his dedication, two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, get a glimpse of the saviour of the world and share their prophecies of hope, pain and joy.

Simeon sings a hymn of praise which we now sing at Evensong or Compline as the Nunc Dimittis.

Bach put this song to music in perhaps its most beautiful setting, sung in German, Ich habe genug – I have enough. Here are the lyrics and translation:

Ich habe genug,
Ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der Frommen,
Auf meine begierigen Arme genommen;
Ich habe genug!
Ich hab ihn erblickt,
Mein Glaube hat Jesum ans Herze gedrückt;
Nun wünsch ich, noch heute mit Freuden
Von hinnen zu scheiden.

I have enough,
I have taken the Saviour, the hope of the righteous,
into my eager arms;
I have enough!
I have beheld Him,
my faith has pressed Jesus to my heart;
now I wish, even today with joy
to depart from here.

The rest of the arias can be found here.

A wonderful 30 minute exploration of this cantata can be heard on BBC iPlayer, perfect to listen to after your Sunday lunch today:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09l07ly

Painting of Simeon holding the baby Jesus

By Aert de Gelder – Unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=467320

The whole encounter with Christ in the Temple is filled with wonder and beauty – as often happens when a new born child is brought into a room. 4th century saint Ephraim of Syria imagined Simeon and Anna’s songs as a lullaby. Meditate on these words:

Praise to you, Son of the Most High, who has put on our body.

Into the holy temple Simeon carried the Christ-child

and sang a lullaby to him:

‘You have come, Compassionate One,

having pity on my old age, making my bones enter into Sheol in peace.

By you I will be raised out of the grave into paradise.’

Anna embraced the child; she placed her mouth

upon His lips, and then the Spirit rested

upon her lips, like Isaiah

whose mouth was silent until a coal drew near

to his lips and opened his mouth.

Anna was aglow with the spirit of his mouth.

She sang him a lullaby:

‘Royal Son, despised son, being silent, you hear;

hidden, you see; concealed, you know; God-man, glory to your name.’

The barren woman Elizabeth cried out as she was accustomed,

‘Who has granted to me, blessed woman,

to see your Babe by whom heaven and earth are filled? Blessed is your fruit

that brought forth the cluster on a barren vine.’

Praise to you, Son of the Most High, who has put on our body.

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Advent-ure Day 1: Luke 2: 21-40 – Are you satisfied?

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Today’s reading:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the sight of all people,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”
 

The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty???four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying.

Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth.

And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2: 21-40 (NIV)

 

Are you satisfied?

After reading today’s reading I was a bit miffed: it made me think of those annoying people who tell you the end of a book or film before you’ve read or seen it! I thought “this reading course will lead up nicely to climax with the birth of Christ and they’ve gone and started at the end with the dedication of the Christ child in the Temple!”

 

On reflection, I’ve realised that Advent, although it is how we anticipate celebrating the birth of Christ – it is also about the longing all Christians have to see Christ come again – the Second Coming. To see the Kingdom of God truly come in all its glory. To see that day when:


He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4)

 

Simeon had been waiting all his life for what this NIV translation rather beautifully calls ‘the consolation of Israel’. This is found in his seeing the Christ child. It is amazing that just taking the baby in his arms, he can ‘see’ that this consolation has finally come in the form of a helpless child. As another Christmas reading has it “He will be called wonderful counsellor” (Isaiah 9:6). The One who consoles, comes alongside (the meaning of the Greek for Holy Spirit – the paraclete). Simeon sees this as he looks down at the baby. He also sees what else will happen: “and a sword will pierce your own soul too” – a phrase that always sends a chill down my spine.

 

There is a lovely symmetry in this story: two, young, inexperienced, people visit the Temple to see two, old, wise, people. As a final thought it makes me think of the importance of the sharing of faith across generations. The young shouldn’t try and ‘go it alone’ and neither should the old hold back their counsel and insight that they have gained through the years of how God operates in our lives.

 

I’ll leave you with this amazing piece of music from Bach. This is the song of Simeon put to beautiful music (and which amazingly makes the German language sound beautiful as well!), the repeated refrain is ‘Ich habe genug’ – ‘I have enough/It is enough’. Listen to the music, and as you listen, have a think, is God enough for you? If there were to be no Christmas this year, would you still be consoled by the knowledge that Christ is come?

 

If you received this post by email, click the link below to listen to the music (otherwise, just press play!):


 


Here is a translation of the words sung in this cantata:

 It is enough.

 I have held the Saviour, the hope of all peoples,

 In the warm embrace of my arms.

 It is enough.

 

 I have seen him,

 My faith has impressed Jesus on my heart;

 Now I wish this very day 

 To depart from here with joy.

 

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