Yesterday was Groundhog Day. I hear Punxatawny Phil saw his shadow, but I’m not worried about it—I know that February second is the first day of spring every year. No, I’m not crazy, and yes, I can read a calendar. But the equinoxes and solstices that by so many are called “the first day of [enter season]” are actually the mid-points. (Gustav Holst’s famous Christmas hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” would become a much less poetic “two days after the first day of winter” if this weren’t true). Most cultures in human history have marked these real starts to the new seasons (officially called “cross-quarter days”) with celebrations involving lights or fires. (Or, in the bizarre American case, rodents).
So now that we agree it’s springtime…Yesterday was Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord Jesus in the Temple. Forty days ago we celebrated Christ’s breaking upon the world like the first rays of sunlight on a midwinter dawn. Yesterday we commemorated his being dedicated back to God the Father in a time-honored Jewish ritual, when Simeon proclaimed Jesus to be the Savior of all nations. “A light of revelation to the gentiles.”
I wonder what that day in the temple would have looked like. An old man, ready to be with God, who had seen how many thousands of babies come and go to the temple, recognizes this one baby as the savior of the nations. It’s easy to imagine a Hollywood appearance for scripture: Scene: temple. Simeon sees Jesus, a ray of light shines on him from out of the ceiling, and cue majestic rumbling trumpet music. But if ancient people were anything like modern people, the families entering the temple would have looked a lot like the families entering churches today. During temple worship, did minds wander, as mine is prone to in church? Was time reckoned, lists made, whispered gossip shared? Did priests sometimes shuffle haphazardly through the prescribed rituals, going through the motions but doubting all the while? I can’t imagine not. Yet the sight of an infant inspired a spontaneous song and recitation of a psalm from one man. What sort of baby would it take to inspire such actions today?
We heard last week about a few fishermen dropping everything and leaving their families behind to follow someone they had just met. Think about that. I passed an empty car on side of the highway on my way to choir practice. It did not occur to me that the Messiah could have just called its driver to a life of ministry. Would it have occurred to a Palestinian regarding an abandoned boat on the shoreline 2,000 years ago?
Simeon wasn't the only person in the temple, and the apostles weren't the only men that Jesus walked by on the beach.
Which brings me back to February 2, 2017, and the first day of spring. For being springtime, it sure is wintry. But it’s spring—you can’t argue with the astronomy. I even saw flowers blooming—outside—this week. You just have to know that it’s spring, and then know where to look. In the swirl of doubt of everyday life and in the grime of the daily grind I have come to realize that God is there, God is calling me, God is a light of revelation. I just have to be looking.