When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
There is something special and very different about the days between Christmas and New Year’s. These days are unlike any other of the year, and that has to do with more than just time off from work, half-price sales, and inundation of college bowl games. I think of these days as liminal space. The word liminal comes from the Latin limen, meaning threshold, that bottom part of a doorway which must be crossed when entering a room.
Curiously, different cultures have long honored crossing thresholds in different ways, everything from hanging mistletoe over it, carrying brides across it, taking off shoes, or offering up quick prayers. But universally there is something special, perhaps even holy, about leaving and entering new space. It calls for a pause, a looking back, and looking ahead. Liminal space must not be rushed.
That’s important to keep in mind whether in the liminal space of retirement, divorce, new job, death of spouse, moving house, or yes, a new year. Having done quite a lot of grief counseling I have seen how the liminal space, the in-between times of life, need honoring. We have to first let go, leave behind, pausing at the threshold to take stock and ponder, and only then are we ready to move ahead and take on new things.
That’s where the significance of January 1 comes in. January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of thresholds, doorways, exits, entrances, and transitions. The most important of all the Roman gods, Janus is depicted as having two faces, one for looking backward, and one for looking ahead. Janus represents pondering the happenings of an old year and looking ahead to the new. It means taking time at the threshold to ponder, like Mary did in today’s Scripture.
Someone who is helping me ponder these days is Miroslav Volf in his book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace. Volf suggests that as Christians we have distinct attitudes toward the past, the present, and the future. These attitudes will mark us as different than the secular culture devoid of God.
As to the PAST we can look at it with GRATITUDE. We can know that even the evil done to us God intends for our good (Genesis 50:20). And, while there are many things we don’t know, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). For all this we have gratitude.
As to the PRESENT we can look at it with CONTENTMENT. Within God’s eternal plan and purpose we are able to say, “that we always have enough of everything” (II Corinthians 9:8). Many find it helpful to remind themselves of Paul’s words to Timothy and how “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (I Timothy 6:6). Even from a Roman prison Paul could write, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11, 13).
As to the FUTURE, we can look at it with TRUST. Whatever happens, Jesus has promised to always be with us (Matthew 28:20). For Jesus “has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’ ” (Hebrews 13:5-6)
So in between bowl games, furious shopping, and just hanging out with family and friends, let’s take time on this threshold to ponder. Jesus is the one true God of all doorways, exits, entrances, transitions, and new years. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, in this liminal space. He is the God of all yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows! “Rejoice good Christian friends rejoice!”
With gratitude, contentment, and trust,