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Groundhog Day: What does Jesus have to do with it?

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The groundhog may get slighted in press coverage this year thanks to the Super Bowl. While the great football playoff occurs the first Sunday of February, Groundhog Day is always February 2. This year the two will compete for attention on the same day.

According to The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, the legend of a groundhog named Phil who could predict weather was started in the 1880's. Phil’s Club says the first documented event occurred on February 2, 1887. The tradition of recording whether or not the groundhog sees its shadow at 7:20 am EST on Gobbler’s Knob continues to this day.

However, Morgantown, PA, makes a prior claim to February 4, 1841. "Last Tuesday, the 2nd, was Candlemas day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the Groundhog peeps out of his winter quarters and if he sees his shadow he pops back for another six weeks nap, but if the day be cloudy he remains out, as the weather is to be moderate."

Consider this Old English legend: If Candlemas be fair and bright, winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, winter will not come again.” And from Germany: “For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the sun shine before May.

So what is Candlemas day? It is a religious observance featuring candles to celebrate the fortieth day after Christmas, December 25. Also called the Feast of the Presentation, it may date back to the fourth or fifth century. It commemorates the day when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, according to the requirements of the Mosaic Law. “You are to give over to the Lord the first offspring of every womb” (Exodus 13:12 NIV). Leviticus 12 details the Purification Rite after the birth of a boy. After 40 days, the woman may present a lamb or two doves as an offering for atonement.

Thus Mary and Joseph entered the temple with two doves when Jesus was nearly six weeks old. But instead of presenting Him to the Lord, a godly man named Simeon took Him up and called Him God’s salvation. In essence, God was presenting Jesus to Mary and Joseph via Simeon! He prophesied that Jesus would be a “Light to the Gentiles and the glory of Your people Israel.” Lighting candles on Candlemas came about because of Jesus being called the Light.

Candlemas also may have marked the period between the December solstice and the March equinox, or winter’s halfway point. Thus the parallel to Groundhog Day—a day when people hope for spring. In America, Groundhog Day was popularized by the 1993 comedy film by that name. The movie portrayed a self-concerned news reporter, played by Bill Murray, who had to re-live the day until he became a better person. (The video with this article is a humorous take on that theme.)

So that’s how Groundhog day (40 days after Christmas day) ties to Jesus’ presentation in the temple 40 days after His birth. Perhaps there’s another link. Bill Murray’s character became transformed by trying to improve himself every day. Only when he reached perfection could he move on to February 3. Definitely fiction! View Leah Gingery’s excellent insights about the movie here.

But Jesus offers real transformation to anyone who will stop striving and place their faith in Him. God gives His righteousness to all who believe. “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith” (Romans 3:22-25 NIV).

Whether this Sunday marks Super Bowl Frenzy, Groundhog Day, or Candlemas for you, think about Jesus coming to us over two thousand years ago to be the Light of the World. He was the sacrifice that atoned for our sins. We receive His righteousness when we accept it freely by faith.

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