One of my favourite films is Groundhog Day. It is a 1993 comedy, starring Bill Murray as cynical TV weatherman named Phil Connors, who is sent, much to his disgust, to cover an annual 2nd February Groundhog Day Parade in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.
He films a half-hearted report on the day’s events, gets snowed in and retires to bed early only to wake up the next morning to find that he is living the same day.
Again and again and again.
The initial confusion about his new state of affairs gives way to despair, as he follows the same mindless routine and meets the same irritating people, day-in, day-out. He attempts to end it all several times by employing such methods as standing in a bath with a toaster or driving his car into a quarry. But still, he wakes up to live the same day once more.
Of course, his next move is to indulge in questionable behaviour, realising that his actions have no eternal consequences, but this becomes boring. Eventually, he decides to use the knowledge of the day’s events to help those around him and to better himself. Finally, he is released from the cycle, as to why we know not, but the implication is that he, at long last, sees the truth.
There is some delicious irony that Groundhog Day and Candlemas fall on the same day. I often wonder if Simeon ever felt trapped in his own version of Groundhog Day.
Simeon was an old and holy man who had been promised that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. I suspect that he hadn’t been given a date, time or place, so that he could crack on with normal life until the appointed hour. Instead, he spent his whole life keeping an eye, or indeed both eyes wide open, looking for the Messiah everywhere.
Today is a celebration of three things: firstly, Christ’s Presentation in the Temple, God’s initiative to come and meet us where we are; secondly, we celebrate Simeon’s deep and prayerful attentiveness to God’s presence in the world; thirdly, we celebrate his recognition that this Messiah was not just for a select few but to be a light for all nations.
These are three important things for the Church to learn.
Just as the Christ-child was brought into the Temple from the outside, we must always recognise that Jesus is not just to be found in our sacred buildings, though we do come here to meet him in the Eucharist. He is to be found out there and everywhere, doing what he always does: drawing alongside all of his children. I once heard the mission of the Church described as, ‘Finding out what God is doing and joining in.’ We might be surprised to find that God might be working on the outside and we should go and be with him there.
But to be able to see what God is doing, we need the kind of deep and prayer attentiveness that Simeon had, so that we can see that the world is pregnant with God. So often, we get stuck, head down, in our routines that we fail to see how God might be at work in what, at first, seemed to be very ordinary and mundane. As we leave behind our Christmas celebration, we enter the season of Ordinary Time, when the commonplace takes centre-stage. This is not a time to just crack on until Easter, but an opportunity to be prayerfully attentive to Christ, who promised to be with us, even to the end of the age.
Finally, we must act out what we believe: that this Light is the Light for all people and we must carry it out into a world that is so longing to be freed from the darkness.
So, may each day be more Candlemas-attentive than Groundhog-repetative, that we may one day proclaim, with Simeon, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared in the sight of every people.’