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PONDERING LIMINAL TIME

PONDERING LIMINAL TIME

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.

Luke 2:15-19

Wow! What a fabulous full moon! I watched it the other night like a big orange on the horizon, following hard after the winter solstice, signaling the sun’s journey northward. Moon and sun joined to call earth dwellers to be in awe and ponder. On the first page of the Bible we learn that God placed the moon and sun overhead “for signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). God wants us to watch them, pay attention, and mark time.

That’s one of the things so important about these days between Christmas and the New Year. It’s about more than time off from work, college bowl games, and half-price sales. The moon and sun tell us these are days of Liminal Time. The word Liminal comes from the Latin limen meaning “threshold”. Limen is that part of the doorway crossed when entering new space or time. Significantly, many cultures have a long history of treating thresholds as special. Grooms carry brides across thresholds, merrymakers hang mistletoe over thresholds, guests stop there to take off their shoes, and worshippers pause to pray.

We can think of late December and early January as Liminal Time. We pause at the year’s threshold to look backward and to look ahead. January is named after the Roman god Janus, the god of thresholds, doorways and transitions. Janus is always depicted as a god with two heads, simultaneously looking backward and forward.

Janus is a good reminder to stop at the year’s threshold and ponder what has happened, while preparing to move ahead. We see Mary doing that in today’s scripture as she pauses to ponder ancient prophecies, Gabriel’s announcement, the shepherds report and Simeon’s words to her in the temple. She needs to ponder what all of this means for the future.

Yale theologian Miroslav Volf helps me ponder these days of Liminal Time by suggesting three distinct biblical attitudes towards the PAST, PRESENT, and FUTURE. These attitudes can free us from the culture’s cynicism and fear. In Volf’s book, Free of Charge, he says we can look back at the PAST with GRATITUDE. We can know that even the evil done to us is intended by God for our good (See Genesis 50:20). While there are many things we do not know, we do “know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

In the PRESENT we can practice CONTENTMENT. Within God’s purpose for our lives we are able to say, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). As Christ-followers “we always have enough of everything” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Indeed, “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). Even from a Roman prison the apostle Paul could say, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (Philippians 4:11).

Now, as to the FUTURE, and whatever 2019 might bring, we can meet it all with TRUST. No matter stock market gyrations, government shutdowns, or weather, Jesus promises to always be with us (Matthew 28:20). He assures, “’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)

Between shopping, bowl games, and just hanging out, these are good days for pondering: past, present, and future — in the light of Emmanuel, God-with-us. It is Jesus who stands as God of all doors, exits and entrances, and transitions!

Happy New Year!
Tim

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