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’s something very special and different about these days between Christmas and New Year’s, this time between times. These days feel different than any other days of the year, and it has nothing to do with half-price sales, a glut of college bowl games, or stashing away decorations. These are days of liminal space.
The world liminal comes from the Latin limen, meaning threshold. It’s that bottom part of the doorway you cross when leaving one room to enter another. It’s the place you hang your mistletoe because it’s liminal space, a space that’s different.
Many different cultures recognize liminal space in many different ways. It might mean carrying a bride across the threshold to signify leaving one life behind for another. It might mean taking off your shoes to indicate you are leaving behind the outer, public world to enter the inner sanctum of family and home. In the Christian tradition it has often meant stopping at the chapel or church door before entering in order to pray and center oneself for what is about to happen. It is threshold, liminal space that brings me to the importance of pausing in this special time between leaving the old year and entering the new.
The new month of January takes its name from the old Roman god Janus, the deity of thresholds, exits and entrances, transitions, and new beginnings. Janus was always depicted as having two faces; one for looking back and one for looking ahead. Janus commands people to pause and ponder what they leave behind and what they enter.
In today’s text the young teen mother Mary is pondering a life left behind, and a new life entering. She is pondering the birth of the Savior. Today’s Scripture text says that Mary “pondered” (Greek: symballo), literally, “put things together”. Mary made connections, linked one prophecy with another, and related this event to others.
This liminal space of time between Christmas and New Year’s is good for pondering the past, the present, and the future. I like to ponder the past year with gratitude. I can know that even in the evil done to us God is working for good. Ponder with me Joseph’s words to his brothers who had done him so much harm: “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good” (Genesis 50:20). See also Romans 8:28 and ponder connections: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” For this past year and God’s goodness to me I am profoundly grateful.
As to the present, I have contentment. Within the plans and purposes of a God who gave us His Son, I am able to say, “we always have enough of everything” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ponder with me the words of the apostle Paul to Timothy, how “there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment” (1 Timothy 6:6). Even from a Roman prison Paul could write Philippian Christians: “I have learned to be content with whatever I have…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11, 13) In this present moment I am content.
As to the future, and whatever 2016 might bring, I ponder with trust. Whatever happens in this coming year, the Christ of Christmas, Emmanuel, promises to always be with us (Matthew 28:20). We know that 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 this special time between times, let’s stop at the threshold and ponder. Like Mary let’s connect some dots, put things together, and know that Jesus is the Lord of all doorways, exits and entrances. He is always Emmanuel, God-with-us! He “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So we can have gratitude for the past, contentment for the present, and trust for the future.
Good Christian friends, Rejoice!
photo by Angelo Amboldi