The spirit of Groundhog Day

Pastoral Messages | February 2, 2023

Attempts and desires to predict the future are likely as ancient as the human brain itself. Wonderings or anxieties about potential good or bad fortunes heading our way arouse within us a desire to know now what will happen tomorrow, next week, or ten years from now. For thousands of years, people have looked toward and indulged in things like palm readings, necromancy, fortune tellers, astrology readings, and dream interpreters to obtain leverage, ease, and get ahead of what was to come. Indeed, people have wanted to know how to predict what was ahead for them throughout all cultures, times, and places.

Even scripture touches on this theme of predicting future events. Joseph is called in to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams about the future of his empire. Daniel receives and interprets dreams regarding future events. The Book of Deuteronomy even has laws about prophetic utterances- those who predict future events that don’t occur are to be put to death! (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 18:20-22). In the Old and New Testament, prophecy and, in particular, the telling, revealing, or understanding of what’s to come is directly related to and made possible by God, or regarding the New Testament, the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21).

This brings me to Groundhogs Day. A fun and happy-go-lucky celebration stemming from Dutch and German roots that seeks to predict future weather patterns by witnessing the single decision of one groundhog named Phil. How accurate is Phil? Recent reports give him a 39% success rate in predicting whether we will have six more weeks of winter. Flipping a coin would have likely yielded more accurate predictions!

Nevertheless, traditions like these are rooted in cultural practices that date back, in this case, hundreds of years. In Germany, the forecasting animal is a badger. In Croatia and Serbia, it’s a bear waking from hibernation and emerging from its cave. What I did not know, however, is that these traditions relate back to the Christian celebration of Candlemass, which has gone on for more than a thousand years and is also celebrated each year on Feb. 2.

Candlemass celebrates the presentation of baby Jesus at the temple, a Jewish rite that one can find referenced in Leviticus 12. This story happens in Luke 2:22-38, in which the Holy Spirit plays an active role in predicting and shaping the future that is to come! This story from Luke, which is so wrapped up in prophecy, Spirit-driven revelation, and naming now what can be confidently counted on for the future, certainly relate to the impulse to guess the length of winter during Groundhog Day.

In times of uncertainty, faith holds us together, and God’s promises keep us rooted in ease that can’t come from anywhere else. In a world where change is happening more rapidly than ever before, uncertainty is dished out in plethoric servings. News sites, social media influencers, bloggers, and even films often attempt to illustrate and forecast the future. However, as God’s people, we’re reminded that the work of the Holy Spirit often flies underneath the radar, working in dark and remote environments where internet connections might be few and far between. Certainly, nothing good was expected to come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). As people who seek to be guided by this Holy Spirit, we may sense a nudge that helps us prepare for the future, to answer a call to what God is up to in our lives. Still, we can also expect God to work in ways that defy even the most complex predicting machines we have, even the weather channel.

-Max Franks, pastor in residency

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