Rembrandt “Simeon’s Song of Praise”
One of my favorite distance learning opportunities in 2020 is a disruptive practice I call “pause for poetry.” My sons really enjoy this seemingly random occurrence; it means a break from worksheets, and the alliterative repetition of “p” makes it fun to announce.
“Pause for poetry” is simple: we just take a few minutes to read a poem. Both of my sons tend to be analytical and linear, and poetry doesn’t follow patterns they would expect or choose. But they have solid reference points: participating in liturgy at church and reciting poetry at Morning Star have both helped them experience poetry in community.
As we step into the light of Advent, I wonder how we might “pause for poetry” as we encounter the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke. When telling the story to children, we often skim along familiar plot points like the terrified shepherds and the smelly stable. The people in the story matter of course—but so do the things they proclaim. The praise of Mary, the prophecy of Zechariah, and the prayer of Simeon all reflect God’s promises to his people.
With John the Baptist’s arrival, God ends 400 years of silence (a pause!) to fulfill the words of Malachi: “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.” Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon all recognize God’s faithfulness, and they respond in faith, recalling the Old Testament poetry in which they were steeped. This included the Psalms, the Song of Moses (Exodus 15), and the words of Isaiah.
Take Zechariah’s prophecy: Filled with the Holy Spirit after months of being mute, Zechariah proclaims a rich tapestry of Old Testament promises—and how Jesus fulfills them. His words link us to God’s Big Story and to the generations that came before. Suddenly we see why the manger is the moment, the cross the hinge, the resurrection the beginning.
How can we consider—and cling to—these weighty words in Luke 1 and 2? Here are a few ideas: Pick one of these three poem-prayers to read aloud each week leading up to Christmas. Reflect on it with your family, and dig deeper into the Old Testament verses it references. Stage your own Christmas pageant in the den, with your older children reading the longer verses. Listen to one of the innumerable settings of Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat. Pray Simeon’s prayer with your younger ones as you turn on nightlights. Pray that Emmanuel, God with us, will come light our hearts.