February 6, 2011

God in Man made Manifest V

Last Wednesday was Groundhog Day. It’s always rather fun to see Punxsutawney Phil predict whether there will be six more weeks of winter or not. Statistically he’s only right 39% of the time, but still, it’s fun.

There are various theories about the start of the tradition, which in the US evolved in the Pennsylvania German communities a couple hundred years ago. They probably brought it with them from Europe where badgers and bears were thought to foretell weather. Long before that, the Celtic festival of Imbolc occurred around the same time. Imbolc celebrated the fact that days were getting longer, fields were planted, domestic herds were getting ready to give birth, and wild animals were coming out of hibernation. A very old Celtic tradition says that Cailleach, the crone, gathers firewood for the rest of winter on Imbolc. If it’s sunny, she can gather more and the winter will be longer. Sounds rather familiar doesn’t it.

What does all this rambling about furry rodents and ancient feasts have to do with Epiphany and Christopher Wordsworth’s hymn? Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ, (Luke 2:22-38) is also celebrated on February 2. I don’t think that is an accident. There’s even an ancient Scottish rhyme that incorporates the two traditions, using Candlemas itself as the determiner of a long or short winter.

As the light grows longer
The cold grows stronger
If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
If Candlemas be cloud and rain
Winter will be gone and not come again...

The earliest missionaries to the Celts and other ‘pagan’ peoples wisely used the existing feasts to preach Christ. They took the day of Imbolc and introduced the people to a Greater Light than the sun. Instead of scoffing at the ancient ways, they knew themselves to be “God’s servants, working together; [in] you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 3:9-11) They understood that “What can be known about God is plain…because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1:19-20)

The Celts with their bonfires and crops and crones were seeking to bring back the light of the sun to a winter dreary world. All the saints who carried the Gospel into the distant, foreign lands brought a new Light. This week’s verse calls us to come to the true Light. We are to live as Christ’s own here and now, “that we like to Thee may be…God in man made manifest.”

Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord,
Mirrored in Thy holy Word;
May we imitate Thee now,
And be pure, as pure art Thou;
That we like to Thee may be
At Thy great Epiphany;
And may praise Thee, ever blest,
God in man made manifest.

Nothing is beyond the control of God, even ancient pagan festivals and funny, furry, fat mammals who may or may not correctly predict the weather. When we learn to see our Lord, not only “mirrored in Thy holy Word,” but in everyone and everything we encounter it broadens our faith. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured left) said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” All things can and do bring us closer to God.

Candlemas celebrates Mary and Joseph coming to the Temple with Jesus to offer "a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord [for a firstborn son]." Simeon and Anna in the Temple recognized Messiah in the infant Jesus. “It had been revealed to [Simeon] that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” When he saw Jesus, he “took him up in his arms and blessed God…’mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.’” (Luke 2:22-38)

The child remembered on the Feast of Candlemas is “God in man made manifest.” Like the early missionaries and apostles, we need to be open to how we can point the way to Christ by showing how God is present all around. All souls seek God and recognize God sometimes in holy Word, sometimes in nature, sometimes in ways that seem odd, because no one has shown the true way. We can pray, “May we imitate Thee now, and be pure, as pure art Thou,” so that our lives may also be a demonstration of God in the world.

Next week I’ll have a special announcement. See you then.

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