February is still early enough for us to say a final goodbye to 2020 and embrace 2021. Jesus grows up quickly in the Church’s calendar. One minute he’s lying in the manger. Days later he’s fully grown and being baptised in the Jordan. He moves rapidly to call his disciples and embark on his mission. And yet it’s 2 February before we see the child Jesus make a final appearance. This date marks the Feast of the Presentation. We’re loath to let the child Jesus go. To prove the point, I keep the Christmas crib on display until that day.
'Nunc Dimittis' is remembered as the theme music by Geoffrey Burgon for the 1979 BBC serialisation of John le Carré’s ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ starring Alec Guinness. Simeon’s prayer, the Nunc Dimittis, is the last of three Canticles in the early chapters of Luke’s Gospel. Mary addresses Elizabeth in the words of the Magnificat; Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, speaks the words of the Benedictus at the circumcision of John.
Although spoken through the mouths of three figures in the Gospel story, early Jewish Christians would have heard in these Canticles echoes of lines in the Old Testament. All three Canticles are key texts in the story of salvation and each is included every single day in the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church.
An old man, Simeon lets go of his life: ‘Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace.’ Having seen the Lord, he is content to die. The Nunc Dimittis makes a perfect New Year prayer: saying goodbye to the old and welcoming in the new. It is also a wonderful night prayer. We let go of the day. What happens tomorrow is in the Lord’s hands.