Tag Archives: gospel in song

Nunc Dimittis, As Sung By Natalie Dessay

Worship the coming Savior…

Simeon, an elderly Jew, had received a promise from the Holy Spirit that he would not die before laying eyes on the Messiah. So when Mary and Joseph bring the child Jesus to the Temple for the purification, specifically the Jewish consecration of the first born male, pidyon haben, Luke 2:22-28, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and uttered the Nunc Dimittis, named after the first phrase in Saint Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate (Luke 2:29-32), translated here by the English Standard Version:

“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.” 

Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata, Ich habe genug, meaning in English, “I have enough,which was first performed in Leipzig in 1727. Bach’s text is only loosely based on Luke’s text, but it conveys the meaning intended by Luke rather well: God had kept His promise to Simeon.

I have enough; I have taken the Savior,
the hope of the Gentiles, into my yearning arms.
I have enough; I have seen him, my faith has held Jesus to my heart;
now I desire but even today to depart with joy from here.
I have enough!

French opera soloist, Natalie Dessay, sings the Aria from Bach’s classic work, from the German:

Ich habe genug.
ich habe den Heiland, das Hoffen der
Frommen, auf meinen begiergen 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.
Ich habe genug!

Behold, the Messiah, the Savior, has come! Merry Christmas, from your friends at Veracity.

Jesus’ purification in the temple serves as a Scriptural model for the increasingly popular practice of “baby dedication” in many of today’s evangelical churches. Other posts in this blog series, based on the “Gospel in Song” preaching this year during Advent in the local church where I worship, include the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Gloria.

Benedictus, Hanukkah and Jesus

Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanies persecuted the Jews, which later triggered the Maccabean revolt, remembered today during Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (source Wikipedia: Altes Museum, Berlin)

Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanies persecuted the Jews, which later triggered the Maccabean revolt, remembered today during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah (source Wikipedia: Altes Museum, Berlin)

Following on last week’s post on the Magnificat, from our church’s Advent sermon series on the “Gospel in Song,” we now consider the Benedictus, the Song of Zechariah, from Luke 1:68-79. The Benedictus is the great prophecy given by Zechariah regarding the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1).

In the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi, in the very last few verses, we read:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:5-6 ESV).

After this, the prophetic voice found in sacred Scripture is silent for some four hundred years. When would this “Elijah the prophet” come and prepare the way for the Lord?

Readers of the New Testament understand that this new “Elijah” is none other than John the Baptist.  Zechariah, the boy’s father, would sing of the “blessing”, or “benedictus”, in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, of the coming prophet who would announce that the Lord “has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (verse 69), where the “horn” is a reference to the deadly weapon and tremendous power of Jesus, the coming Messiah.

However, it is important to set the Benedictus within its proper historical context. Many Christians assume that since there is a Scriptural gap between Malachi and the New Testament, that nothing of significance happened here. But this would be terribly wrong.

A body of Jewish writings, primarily written in ancient Greek, did appear during this four hundred year “silent” period. Many of these writings found their way into the Septuagint, a collection of Greek translations of the Old Testament that effectively became the “Bible” for the early Christian movement. These writings that were not of Hebrew origin are typically known as the Apocrypha. In Roman Catholicism, the Apocrypha are considered to be deuterocanonical, or “second canon,” whereas for Protestants, these writings are simply known for being useful in terms of spiritual edification, but not sufficient for establishing doctrine. Consequentially, the lesser status of these writings has meant that the significance of these writings are often forgotten in our churches today.

But one very important incident, the Maccabean revolt, is preserved for us in the apocryphal writings of 1 and 2 Maccabees. When the Syrian Greeks led by Antiochus Epiphanes took over the land of Israel, they desecrated the Jewish temple and forbade the worship of the one True God. In response, Jewish revolutionaries led by a Judas Maccabeus resisted and successfully defeated the pagan invaders, against tremendous odds. This remarkable incident in Jewish history became the foundation for the celebration of Hanukkah.  Jesus Himself celebrated Hanukkah during his earthly ministry (John 10:22-23).

Some scholars have even suggested that the Benedictus, and perhaps the Magnificat, as well, have their historical roots, in some way, as Maccabean war songs. One might be able to see a connection here when Zechariah sings “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us “(verse 71). Whether or not these scholars are correct, is not so important. What is important is that we can surely appreciate how the early Jewish followers of Jesus saw that the message of Christmas was not simply about a sweet boy lying in a manger. Rather, they could see that the message of the Gospel, as announced by Zechariah, was a bold cry for light in the midst of a dark and hopeless world, which dovetails in rather nicely with the celebration of Hanukkah. Zechariah ends his song with:

To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:79).

May we better understand that revolutionary message today, too.

The following 4-minute video from a Messianic Jewish community in Israel sums up the connection between Hanukkah and Yeshua (Jesus) rather well.


Sandro Botticelli's Madonna of the Magnificat (1481, Italy)

Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna of the Magnificat (1481, Italy)

Our church recently began an Advent sermon series on the “Gospel in Song,” introducing the four great songs in the Gospel according to Luke that address the coming of Jesus. Each song, Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55); Zechariah’s Benedictus (Luke 1:67-79); the angels’ Gloria (Luke 2:13-14); and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:28-32), derives its name from the first word of the respective texts in Saint Jerome’s Vulgate translation of the Bible into Latin. For example, “Magnificat” is Latin for “[My soul] magnifies.” Saturated with references to the Old Testament, Luke’s record of Mary’s (the Mother of Jesus) song continues to draw attention to the radical proclamation of the Gospel.

As the Latin language has become something of a quaint, archaic language of the past in our contemporary, secular society, only to be occasionally revived by classical education programs and home schoolers, the impact of songs like the Magnificat simply sound foreign to the modern ear. However, the Christian church in the West has put the Latin text of the Magnificat to music as part of the worship experience for centuries, and it remains one of the most beautiful expressions of biblical literary genre declaring the Gospel. God, in His wisdom, uses a wide variety of literary genres, including historical narrative, poetry, parables,… and song, in the Bible, to reveal His Truth to us.

One of these compositions belongs to Johann Sebastian Bach, the great German composer of the 18th century. As you listen to Bach’s 1723 interpretation of the Magnificat, while reading the English text, or better yet, following this Latin-to-English interlinear translation, does this not stir your heart to worship the Lord Jesus?

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