On this day, in a little town in Pennsylvania, there’s an annual gathering of winter weary people, news reporters and interested bystanders. The town is Punxsutawney and the object of interest is a large groundhog. February 2nd is the day the Punxsutawney groundhog is brought out to see if his shadow is visible or not. If the groundhog sees his shadow, he will retreat back into his burrow and winter will continue for six more weeks. If not, winter will soon be over. More often than not, shadow seen or unseen, we are probably going to be in for another six weeks of winter.
Finding beauty in nature comes rather naturally in the milder climates we have come to expect in the seasons of spring, summer, and fall. After the initial excitement and hope for a white Christmas, most of us get a bit down in the dreary weather of our gray New England winters. But like everything God made, even this dreary time of year serves a purpose. It prepares the ground, the trees and the animals for the work ahead when new birth, new life springs forth in a rich harvest of nature-blest wealth and nurture. It is in the quieter months of winter that much of the work of nourishing the soil, with its enriching moisture and deepening fertility begins to prepare the spaces and places where trees, plants, flowers, vegetables, fruit and animals might blossom and grow. Without the dormant, seemingly quieter season of these cold, gray days, the sun-blessed days are unlikely to produce or sustain our lives. So God has a plan. Our task is to find a way to enhance the plan rather than derail it.
Frankly, our track record hasn’t been very good. The other day I saw a red fox cross the road in front of the car just ahead of me. Initially, I was grateful the driver didn’t hit the fox and equally grateful the fox crossed the road before I arrived fully on the scene; I didn’t want to be the car that did the poor thing in either. It’s a rare pleasure to see what once was such a natural sight. The fox’s appearance reminded me of which creature…he or we humans…might claim the title interloper. Certainly we, with our houses and our endless paved roads, our cars and our traffic have impinged on what was once the natural terrain of many wild animals. The very fact that I took delight in seeing an animal in the wild is yet another reminder of how rare such sightings are and how unfortunate that when such sightings occur they are usually occasions of danger to the poor creatures who must dodge our cars and evade us. I suspect they really don’t want to be seen by us.
There is a wonderful hymn, which reminds us of God’s original hope and plan for creation. The hymn is # 145. Let’s sing it.
Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the Word
Sweet the rain’s new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass
Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play!
Praise with elation, praise every morning,
God’s recreation of the new day!
The hymn points back to the mythological perfection of a day “when Eden saw play” in which humanity and creation functioned in blissful cooperation. Not so now, as we hear of the unending ways we take our world and its life sustaining riches and pollute them so neither animal nor human will, in the end, win out. The fox running across the road in front of the car is symbolic: it had a destination and a purpose in mind – its thoughts set on the task of providing food for its nurture and its life while risking that very life – dashing in front of the car all in pursuit of what was needed. In much the same way, we’ve created the means to destroy our world and our lives while claiming a need to preserve and to uphold the sanctity of life, all life. With what we hold in our power, we could destroy our world and all life on it a thousand times over.
It can’t be what God intended. The Psalmist offering his own prayer of joy in the words we hear today paints pictures of the idyllic Eden-like beauty God created. There is promise, hope; a measure of certainty as the Psalmist sings to the bounty provided by an always-generous God. The images are wonderful:
- Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young at your altars, O Lord of hosts
- Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.
- For the Lord God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor
- And finally, O Lord of host, happy is everyone who trusts in you.
So, there is a give and take in the creative equation. God gives and asks us to receive but to do so with respect for the gift and for the giver. We still have much to learn about both…gift and giver, but the one certainty is the first word of knowledge we receive…God loves, God creates; God nurtures and sustains us with the blessings of our earth and of nature. All of what God gives to us so trustingly, we should receive, respect and preserve to insure our lives and to make way for the lives of those who will follow us. O Lord of Hosts, “Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.” Amen.