Do you remember the film, “Braveheart”? There’s a scene in the film where the Scottish army are frightened by the English and suspicious of their own generals. They are about to desert. William Wallace rallies them with a stirring speech. He finishes with those now famous lines “They may take way our lives but they will never take away our freedom.” This message is all about freedom. What does it mean to be free?
In the Christmas story, there are prayers and prophesies offered to God in response to the good news of Christmas. The prayers are often “metrical” in form. In other words, they have a poetic feel. You feel that you could sing or chant them. Maybe the original speakers did. Certainly through history, the church has used them as songs and chants.
This particulat song is often used in Anglican Churches. They call it “The Nunc Dimitis” based on the Latin words for “Now you depart”
Simeon lived in Jerusalem and God had promised him that he would live to see the Messiah come. One day, God prompts him to go to the Temple and there he meets this young couple. They’ve brought their baby up for a special ceremony. In Leviticus 12, the people of Israel were told to do two things when a baby boy was born.
- They were to wait 8 days and then circumcise him.
- They were to wait another 33 days and then bring offerings to the Temple.
During this time, the mother was classed as ceremonially unclean. The Law distinguished between clean and unclean as a reminder that living in this messed up, rebellious, decaying and dying world means that even normal day to day life is messy and carries the pain and cost of sin. So even bodily discharges, semen, menstrual fluids, discharge associated with birth were seen as making you unclean. If you were unclean you had to separate yourself off from others and from worship for a period of time. It was not that sex, fertility and birth were bad things. These were clearly understood to be good blessings from God. But even those good things carried pain and bitterness whilst the problem of sin remained.
So this couple come into the temple with their baby and an offering. It’s Mary and Joseph with Jesus. Simeon takes the baby in his hands. He immediately knows that this is the one. So he prays. Maybe he sings the words? The God who sung over his people (Zephaniah 3) is now sung over.
Here is the message of Simeon’s song
You are free
The NLT says “Let your servant die in peace.” I think that this readiness to die is implicit from the context. However, literally Simeon says
“Lord/Master you are now releasing your slave in peace.”
Simeon had been given a job to do. It was simply to watch for the day when the Saviour would come. Now he can see that his work is complete. He is free from the task. For him this did mean earthly service.
One of the beauties of the Gospel should be a sense of freedom. Sadly we don’t always get that. So often we feel and act as though we are trapped and crushed under a burden. Sometimes we act in a way that crushes and restricts others under a burden.
Many years ago, Rick Warren wrote the best-selling books “The Purpose Driven Life” and “The Purpose Driven Church” Sometimes it feels like we picked up the wrong books by mistake “The Guilt Driven Life” and “The Guilt Driven Church.” So we do things
because we have to,
because we’ve always done them,
because no-one else could possibly step
because others expect me to fulfil this potential
because doing this might make amends
If you recognise yourself in those words then there is good news. The arrival of Jesus in your life sets you free.
It sets you free to serve without guilt or drudgery
Simeon was happy to call God His master (despot) and to describe himself as a servant/slave. You see with God, there’s joy and delight in service.
Here are some tests
“Do I find joy and delight in the work God has given me to do?”
If the answer is no, then maybe it is because I’m no longer doing it for God but for the reasons described above. Now this doesn’t mean that I’m doing the wrong things but it does mean that my motives may be wrong. It may be that I’m measuring myself against others expectations.
“Could I stop doing this tomorrow if I was asked to?”
I don’t like the word “ministry.” Well okay I don’t mind it as a good biblical word but I don’t like the way people have used the word. When we start saying “This is my ministry” we are in trouble, It becomes chains that bind us. When a “calling” becomes something I must pursue regardless of what else is happening in life and in church we are in trouble.
It restricts freedom because
Sometimes we need to rest
Sometimes God wants someone else to have a go
Sometimes God needs us to do something different
Oh and sometimes the question is more “What if you are told you cannot start doing something?” Christians have bought heavily into the idea that we can never say no to someone if they feel called to do something. But actually, godly life does not mean that we follow our dreams, fruitful ministry does not mean that we will always get to fulfil our ambitions, no matter how noble. We can mistake what we think we should do or what it would be good to do and even what would be useful to be done for what we must do.
Now, sometimes we need to stop(or not start) doing something at this point. However, sometimes (and more often than not) it may simply be about refocusing and rediscovering our sense of purpose. Getting things in perspective means we can continue afresh.
It sets you free to die when God decides
Simeon was ready to die now. Are you? Now these days we have to be careful about talking about being ready to die. The idea is associated with radicalisation and suicide bombers. But this is not what I’m talking about. It’s not about desperation to leave this world because life is so awful. It’s not escape. Life in Christ is good.
But for many of us –indeed I dare say all of us at some points in time – death brings fear. We will do anything to postpone it. Well the Bible tells us that with Jesus, we have nothing to fear from death. His death and resurrection take away death’s sting
So as Christians we love life. That’s why we speak out against abortion and Euthanasia. But we don’t need to cling on to life or to demand that others do either. One day, He will call you home and it will be wonderful.
We are free because of God’s Salvation (v30-32)
Did you pick this up through the song and through the other songs. Really we should call all of these songs “Salvation’s Song”
Mary “rejoices in God my saviour” (Luke 1:47)
Zechariah Praises God who has sent “a mighty Saviour”
And now Simeon says
“I have seen your salvation”
Salvation “which you have prepared for all people”
Salvation as a light of revelation to all nations
Salvation as Israel’s glory
This Salvation is found in Jesus. He sees it in that small, fragile baby in his arms. Why? Well Simeon looks on and sees what will happen (v34-35). He looks forward to Jesus’ death.
Why am I free? I’m free because Jesus has already dealt with the problems of sin and death. He has paid the price in full. He is the one who will sort the mess out and bring a new heaven and new earth. The job he calls us to is not burdensome, the burden he gives is not heavy. Simply like Simeon we are witnesses, pointers to the great salvation there is in Jesus.
Because we are free We worship –we sing
And what do free people do? Well you know many years ago there were people taken from their home countries shipped in unpleasant conditions and sold as slaves on plantations. But they knew that because of the Gospel they weren’t really slaves, they found freedom in Christ and so they sung.
Do you know freedom in Christ?
If you don’t know Christ as your saviour, please do get in touch with me, I’ve love to talk with you, pray with you and link you in to a local church.
If you are a believer but maybe you have felt things becoming a burden and so you’ve lost that sense of freedom take time to stop and pray. You may want to talk with someone from your church. It might be that today you discover anew sense of joy in the work God has given you to do.