In recent months here at Atonement we have seized many opportunities to rejoice in the Lord by singing. We have been using different orders of service from Lutheran Service Book for our corporate worship on Sunday mornings. On the first Sunday of the month we worship using “Divine Service, Setting Two” (LSB 167—183). On the second and fourth Sundays of the month we worship using the “Service of Prayer and Preaching” (LSB 260—267). On the fourth and fifth Sundays of the month we worship using “Divine Service, Setting Four” (LSB 203—212). In these orders of service we have a number of opportunities to rejoice in the Lord through song. One particular way that we do this is by singing various Biblical canticles.
In this article I would like to look more closely at the Benedictus (LSB 226-227), the Magnificat (LSB 231-232), and the Nunc Dimittis (LSB 182, 211). I would like to do this for two purposes. First, so that we can see more fully that joy is the natural result of experiencing Christ and his salvation with our human senses. Second, so that the joy in Christ that we experience may increase.
The Benedictus, the Magnificat, and the Nunc Dimittis can all be described as joyful canticles. They are the three canticles used most often in the history of Christian worship. It is no coincidence that they were all originally sung by people immediately after they experienced the newborn Christ, the Messiah, with their human senses for the first time.
When people in the Bible heard about the coming of their Messiah in this Jesus of Nazareth, they responded with great rejoicing. When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-13, there was a song of great rejoicing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). After the Shepherds had seen the newborn Christ wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20).
So also, in the three Biblical canticles for our consideration in this article, the singers sing songs of joy at what the have heard and seen concerning Jesus. In the Benedictus, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sings a song of prophesy in regard to God’s work of salvation through Jesus for which John was appointed to be the forerunner (Luke 1:68-79). In the Magnificat, Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her Spirit rejoices at the news from the Angel Gabriel that she was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:46-55). In the Nunc Dimittis, Simeon sings joyously that his eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord as he holds the infant Jesus in his arms (Luke 2:29-32).
Now, when we gather together to worship, we have the privilege of singing these songs of joy as we experience Jesus anew with our senses in the hearing of the Gospel of his forgiveness and in the tasting of his salvation in the body and blood of the Lord’s Supper. As we continue to hear, see, and even taste the salvation of our God together in our worship on Sunday mornings, may we more joyously join the jubilant refrains of those first witnesses.
 The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy & Worship. Ed. by Paul Bradshaw. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. Pg. 95.