The Super Bowl, Groundhog Day and the Feast of the Presentation

By Sam Candler

I am glad that the Super Bowl occurs so closely to the Feast of the Presentation.

Tell the folks in Las Vegas that this is my wager: less than ten professional football players have ever used the words “Super Bowl” and “Feast of the Presentation” in the same sentence. While we’re at it, let’s throw in Groundhog Day. How many people realize that Groundhog Day is always on the Feast of the Presentation – or “Candlemas,” or the “Purification of the Virgin,” or whatever name our ancient and beautiful church gives to February 2.

I actually believe that all these events have something in common. They are ways that our community, our civilization, hopes for life and light in the midst of winter.

Let’s start with the Super Bowl. That is where most of our North American culture will be focused this week. Consider the gatherings, the parties, the festivities around Sunday night. This is ritual at its most primordial. People plan schedules and change behavior and spend their resources for this event; in my book, such is the stuff of religion. The entities that change your schedules and order your lives and to which you offer your money are usually what we call “gods.”

The Super Bowl usually falls right in the middle of winter (in North America). So does February 2, which is the Feast of the Presentation. The day falls almost exactly midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Though winter “begins,” officially, on December 21, it is rarely as cold then as it is in the middle of winter – about February 2. Thus, our ancestors realized and devised all sorts of mid-winter feasts and festivals to remind them that Spring was coming.

Christians began to observe this mid-winter day as “the Purification,”, or “Candlemas,” or -now-“the Feast of the Presentation.” According to tradition, the young child Jesus was to be presented in the Temple 40 days after his birth; other traditions have called this same day the “Purification of the Virgin” (following Leviticus 12:2,6). However, the tradition of “Candlemas” came closest to recognizing what is going on in our natural world. Whether they called it “Presentation” or “Purification,” Christians lit candles on this day. At Christian churches across the world, people light candles and walk in procession; they walk toward the light, even in the deep mid-winter.

Something in our human condition will always long and lean for light. We yearn for its energy, especially when we miss it the most – in the bleak midwinter. Somehow or another, our secular Groundhog Day is also associated with the longing for this light. We are wondering just how long it will be before Spring comes. Will the groundhog see his shadow or not? Is there sunshine today -too early-or not?

I have no idea whether all the bellweather groundhogs across the United States saw their shadows or not. And, no matter who actually wins the Super Bowl, all of our country is strangely warmed on Sunday night watching the festivities.

It is wintertime now, but the world has turned toward Spring. Yes, there will be more cold snaps. There may even be an ice storm. But the earth has now turned around the sun toward Spring. I hope, and the Church hopes, the same thing about life today. Perhaps our health is bad right now. Perhaps our economy is bleak right now. But God has turned us toward light, toward health.

I encourage us, then, to present ourselves to this God of Light. Like the Virgin Mary and her husband, Joseph, present yourselves and your offspring to God in the holy temple. Go to that place which has preserved and proclaimed light even during the darkest times. Light your candles. May our lights bring forth more light, the Light of the World!

The Very Rev. Sam Candler is dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta. He chaired the House of Deputies’ Committee on Prayerbook, Liturgy and Church Music at the General Convention. His sermons and reflections on “Good Faith and Common Good” can be found on the Cathedral web site.

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