When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:22-40
February 2 serves as the confluence of two observances. First the day is forty days following Christmas Day and according to Luke’s Gospel it is on this day that the forty-day old baby Jesus was presented in the temple by his parents. During that presentation the elderly Simeon and Anna recognize Jesus as the Messiah and a light to the world. Simeon’s song is known in Latin as the Nunc Dimittis meaning “Now you dismiss…” Christ’s Presentation roots him in his Jewish heritage while at the same time Simeon’s witness serves to recognize Jesus as a savior for all people. This intergenerational encounter also serves to highlight the appropriate response of offering thanks and praise to God for the gift of Christ. In England this day is known as Candlemas and a day when all the candles used in worship were blessed as well as the acolytes who light the candles.
Of course, in the United States and especially in Pennsylvania February 2 is Groundhog Day. Here are some old English and Scottish songs/poems concerning Candlemas
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
–An old English song
If Candlemas Day is bright and clear,
There’ll be twa (two) winters in the year
–An old Scotch couplet
If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair,
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter’s gone at Yule.
According to the official website The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club website,
The Roman legions, during the conquest of the northern country, supposedly brought this tradition to the Teutons, or Germans, who picked it up and concluded that if the sun made an appearance on Candlemas Day, an animal, the hedgehog, would cast a shadow, thus predicting six more weeks of bad weather, which they interpolated as the length of the ‘Second Winter.”
Pennsylvania’s earliest settlers were Germans and they found groundhogs to in profusion in many parts of the state. They determined that the groundhog, resembling the European hedgehog, was a most intelligent and sensible animal and therefore decided that if the sun did appear on February 2nd, so wise an animal as the groundhog would see its shadow and hurry back into its underground home for another six weeks of winter.
The Germans recited:
For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day,
So far will the snow swirl until the May.
You can begin to see the connections between the American observance of Groundhog Day and the Presentation of Our Lord also known especially in England as Candlemas. Well, it is a lot to observe on one day and thus on this snowy Groundhog Day its only appropriate that Phil, the prognosticator of prognosticators and the seer of seers, saw his shadow. Six more weeks of winter there shall be!
Candlemas brings an end to the Christmas cycle in the church year and is the time when traditionally the remaining decorations and trimmings from Christmas were removed from the home. It is at this time that I also reflect back upon our recent Christmas observance and celebrations. Indeed, Christ was born in Bethlehem, presented in the Temple, crucified in Jerusalem and raised from the dead. Thanks be to God that Christ the Light of the World continues to shine God’s light and love into our hearts and homes this holy day.
Your servant in Christ,
Pastor Stephen Herr