A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Friday, February 6, 2015

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Small Town's Favorite Holiday

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

It is said that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year……
or is it??

February is my least favorite month.
Of the ”lesser holiday months”
it ranks at the bottom.

January has New Years Day and MLK Day….2 days off work.
March at least, has Shamrock Shakes and Leprachauns.
June & August are in the summertime…..enough said, 
and September has Labor Day and Cheese Pizza Day   (I am not making this up)

But February????
February starts with people paying attention to a psychic rodent,
Midway through, folks are spending a minor fortune on chocolates and flowers
  because of some little angel with a bow and sling.
And once every 4 years,
we get an extra day……………….
an extra day to go to work. 

Add in that football is officially over,
and sign me up for a long winter’s nap,
preferably through all 28 days.

But it is Groundhog Day that puzzles me the most.

I get that it is the halfway mark
between the winter solstice and spring equinox
(There’s enough reason to pop the champagne……….)

But how did we get to a bunch of men in small towns across the country
dressing up in Charles Dickens coats and top hats at the break of day,
coaxing an overfed woodchuck to come out of its heated playpen,
to tell us how much more winter we have to bear????

Ashamedly, I live in the same state 
that houses the most widely celebrated Groundhog Day…….
that would be Pennsylvania….
specifically Punxsutawney, PA.

This sleepy little hamlet just doesn’t celebrate February 2nd.
Oh no. It’s not just a day, it’s a three day stupidfest.
It is a weekend celebration 
of all things pointless……
and people come by the thousands to participate.
Television news teams across the nation cover this.
Heck, they even made a major motion picture about it!

If you think I am blowing this out of proportion, consider this….

This woodchuck has met governors and  presidents
and even bigger…….in 1995, he appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
He has appeared on the JumboTron at Time’s Square  in NYC
(Please believe me, I am not making this up)
He’s a rock star.

There are groundhog themed weddings, woodchuck whittling contests,
a Punzsutawney Phil scavenger hunt, and if you are lucky enough
to have been born on February 2nd, you are invited to Phil’s Birthday Bash.

On the day itself, you’d better get there early
(translation:  in the middle of the night)
if you hope to get a seat on one the shuttles that takes you to Gobbler’s Knob
(again, I am not making this up)
This is where Punxsutawney Phil resides,
well actually, he only lives there for that night.
The rest of the year, the hairy, overfed rodent lives in the town library.
Nothing builds up community literacy like a woodchuck living in your library.

If you think this cray cray is going away anytime soon, think again…..
this has been going on since 1886.
And I thought I lived in a small town with nothing to do………..

If you want to blame this on anyone, blame it on the early Christians.
Back in the day, a holiday called Candlemas was celebrated at this time of year.
It was actually associated with the bringing of the baby Jesus to the temple 40 days after his birth.
Clergy would bless candles and give them to the poor as a sign
that the cold of winter would soon be passing into the season of greater light.

Leave it to the Germans to somehow connect this with hedgehogs……….
They believed these little varmits were creatures of “great intellect”
Obviously, if the little furball came out of its hole and saw its shadow,
there had to be six more weeks of winter………   obviously.

And then the Germans settled in Pennsylvania,
and now we have reason to celebrate in the dead of winter.

I have to admit, that it is easy to make fun of Groundhogs Day,
if it’s origins were with the dedication of Jesus in the temple,
how far off the mark we have taken it.

But we do that with many of our holidays.

Does God really care that we put trees in our houses at Christmas,
or that we observe Christmas at all?

And what do jelly beans and plastic grass have to do with
a Savior arising from his grave?

Holidays are far more for humans, than they are for God.
Even if we celebrate them the way “Christians are supposed to celebrate them.”

Observing sacred holidays no more makes one Christian
than going to an zoo makes one an animal.

So what is a Christian when are the manmade rules and observances are stripped away?

The words of Jesus hold the answer…..
When asked……

“Master, which is the greatest commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,
with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with al thy mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is
like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hand all the law and the prophets.’ “ (Matt 22:36-40)

Many  I believe,
at least understand the implication of the first part…..
we are to love God with all of our being.

I think there is a far greater disconnect with the second part.
Putting it simply,
Do we treat others the way we want to be treated?
Do we speak to others the way we want to be spoken to?
Do we help others even when it does not benefit us?
Do we avoid things that could make life more difficult for others
and instead do things without recognition that help others?

Back in His day,
thousands came to hear His remarkable teachings.
Now they come to hear a rodent predict the weather.

Maybe Jesus is more than the reason for the season.
Perhaps He is the reason for every single day.
If so,  then every day is a holiday to be lived for Him.
Does that describe you?

Now get ready to plant your tree on Arbor Day,
so you can put in your house for Christmas,
so you can mulch it for Earth Day.

That’s how we do it in small towns…….

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