The Presentation of Our Lord
The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
On February 2nd thousands of visitors will descend upon Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to find out if Phil the groundhog, the seer of seers, the prognosticator of prognosticators will predict an early spring or six more weeks of winter. Not long after the groundhog determines whether he sees his shadow or not, our congregation will gather for worship and celebrate the festival of the Presentation of Our Lord. This festival recalls the visit of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was forty days old. In the temple they met Simeon and Anna who were elderly, faithful and righteous.
What are the connections between this church festival day and Groundhog Day? The Presentation is rooted in the account of Jesus visit recorded in Luke 2:22-40. In keeping with Jewish law Mary and Joseph go to the temple to present Jesus to God and for Mary to be ritually purified following childbirth. During that visit Simeon announces Jesus as a light to the Gentiles noting that Christ came for the whole world and all people. Simeon identified Jesus, his life, and his ministry would result in the rising and falling of many and a sword would pierce Mary’s heart as well. Simeon’s prophetic words spoke of the divided response to Jesus. As early as the fourth century Christians celebrated this festival and by the Middle Ages Roman Catholics celebrated the purification of the virgin Mary.
Through the centuries the day became the official conclusion of the Christmas celebration. In many Christian countries it was (and continues to be) the day to take down decorations and nativity scenes. Because of Simeon’s designation of Jesus as the light, the tradition emerged of blessing candles to be used in worship throughout the coming year. In addition, worshippers would bring candles from home to be blessed. In Germany a tradition developed that linked Candlemas with weather forecasting particularly the length of the winter. This couplet highlights this connection.
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
In Germany the prognostication of a badger was introduced. If the badger saw his shadow, he would retreat to his burrow symbolizing six more weeks of winter. If the badger did not see his shadow, he remained above ground symbolizing an early spring. When Germans emigrated to the United States, they brought this tradition of Dachstag (badger day). In Pennsylvania the Germans found more groundhogs than badgers and by the mid-nineteenth century the tradition of Groundhog Day appeared with the most famous celebration taking place in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
And so, on February 2 church and culture connect as we enjoy the fun of Groundhog Day and celebrate Jesus as the light of the world. At worship we will bless the candles to be used in worship and you are invited to bring your candles from home to be blessed. In winter or spring, sunny or cloudy skies, God illumines our lives with grace and mercy calling us to the task of discipleship and in service of the one born in Bethlehem, presented in the temple, crucified on the cross and raised from the dead: Jesus Christ the light of the world!
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Stephen Herr