By Joel Hess
Here in Michigan Groundhog Day carries a little more significance than those of you who dwell in more mundane and never changing climes. Winter gets hard around February and even though we snicker at that ridiculous rodent, a little pagan voice inside us prays to Brighid that Phil fails to see his shadow and Spring will come soon.
Winter is surely more enjoyable in the 21st century than even the recent past; especially here in Cadillac, where I can ski, snowmobile, ice fish, snow shoe or just spend the day making snow angels. Our technology has made winter a little more bearable than those who first celebrated Feb. 2, the mid-point between the winter solstice and Spring equinox. My pagan Celtic ancestors took it seriously. Deadly seriously. Stored food was running out, the peat cut for heat was getting low, and the weak were dying. A longer than usual winter meant death. So they anxiously hoped that the Sun would not shine on that day for it was believed that was a sign of winter’s ending.
We live in a winter of sorts, as CS Lewis too obviously tells us in his Narnia trilogy. Since Adam’s fall, a cold spell has gripped our hearts toward God and one another. No matter the climate, death, disharmony and darkness mark the season of this Aeon.
I believe the arts are frequently a primitive desperate expression of our spiritus mundi memory of Eden, a time when winter was not and everything was green and fruitful and Living. No matter the religion or culture or how much sin has clouded and confused our reason and instinct, every human being vaguely believes that the world has not always been like this. And it pains us like trying to remember a beautiful dream in the morning. Even Plato’s stab at explaining reality with his shadows illustration in the Republic is evidence of this. Though like a toddler explaining how things work, he’s wrong, but it’s cute.
This is the winter Simeon lived in and wanted out of. Sin, death and doubt covered the land of Judah, and beyond its borders was an even darker and tormented land. He came to the temple every day. He was looking for the redemption and consolation of Israel. He was hoping that the groundhog would not see his shadow. He was searching for that first beautiful bud of spring.
And then He came. Not in a royal carriage but in the arms of ordinary po folk. But why not! Spring doesn’t come all at once and what a bore that would be. It always starts gently with the air getting a little warmer with a smell that lifts your spirits and jogs your memory like a lover’s perfume left on an old letter.
Simeon rejoices and holds the Green bud and tulip flower and breathes it in. He doesn’t know exactly how, but this child was going to end winter and bring in the Spring! And he felt safe to die now. It was safe to die, because this child would catch him in his fall and lift him up – from his sins, from his death even.
So Jesus cast out that winter king Satan, and dispelled the spell cast upon kings and men as Tolkien so beautifully portrays it in his Ring cycle thievery. Sure enough, Jesus ushered in the green with His death and resurrection.
Spring has begun, can you smell it, see it, taste it? Yet we live in winter still. And that dying dark liar wants you to think it always will be. But the snow is thawing wherever Jesus goes – casting out the cold spells suffocating sinful people through His church, through His Word and sacraments. The trees are budding, the acorn is cracking, the bulb beneath the dirt is moving.
O happy ground hog day