Growing up in Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day was a big deal. My dad worked in a factory for his whole career and two big days for time off were the first day of hunting season and Groundhog Day. It seems several of the guys who worked with him would drive the four hours to Punxsutawney after work on February 1st, join with the gang at Gobbler’s Knob in a night of drinking, and then watch to see if Phil saw his shadow to predict how much longer the winter weather would last. Punxsutawney Phil is, I think, the nationally recognized prognosticator of spring. He seems to be groundhog who gets all the shine. He’s featured on all the morning news shows, and his prediction is the one I see plastered all over my social media feeds.
What you might not know, however, is that Phil is not the only weather predicting groundhog who awakes from their slumber on February 2nd to look for their shadow in the early morning light. Much closer to my hometown than Punxsutawney is a little village called White Rock, which sits on the west branch of Octoraro Creek. There, the Slumbering Lodge of Hibernating Governors gather on the Feast of the Presentation to celebrate Octoraro Orphie, whom they affectionately refer to as “the one true groundhog.” Orphie also predicts the coming of spring by either seeing his shadow, which means six more weeks of winter, or not seeing his shadow, which means spring is right around the corner. This morning Phil saw his shadow, but Orphie did not, and so I’m Team Orphie all the way.
You may wonder why I’m offering you this history and geography lesson about large rodents on the Feast of the Presentation or Candlemas, as it is known in many parts of the Church. Well, it all goes back to Medieval Europe where Candlemas, 40 days after the birth of Christ and the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, was thought to be a special day of weather prediction. An old poem says, “If Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another flight, but if it be dark with clouds and rain, winter is gone and will not come again.” Groundhog Day and the Feast of the Presentation are interconnected in several different ways, but today, I’d like to suggest to you that the story of Phil and Orphie is a parallel to the stories of Simeon and Anna.
Simeon, like Phil, gets all the shine. His song is an integral part to the Daily Office and is said at every service of Compline. His prediction to Mary, that a sword would pierce her heart, is often cited on Holy Week as the tragic story of Jesus’ Passion is told. He is famous for having declared the infant Jesus as the Savior. Anna, on the other hand, is the Octoraro Orphie of the Presentation. Faithful to her core, the long-widowed Anna never left the Temple. She fasted and prayed, day and night, for the salvation of her beloved Israel. Her words aren’t recorded for us to say at Evening Prayer. Her prediction that Jesus would bring about the redemption of the world is only mentioned in passing, and yet, Anna is as much a part of the story of the Messiah as Simeon is, though she is so often forgotten to history. Anna wasn’t just faithful to her God, but to the promises of restoration, and she couldn’t help but tell anyone who would listen that this child was the one who would redeem Jerusalem, Israel, and the whole world. On this Feast of the Presentation, may we have faith like Anna and the tenacity of Orphie to work faithfully to share the Good News of God’s saving love. Amen.