We are gathering this morning on the threshold of a New Year. About 34 hours ago, we put 2021 to bed. I know there are more than a few of us who are quite content to see 2021 in the rearview mirror. And now we stand here, on January 2nd, and we turn and look forward into 2022 and, ever so cautiously... hope.
In terms of the church calendar, we gather this morning on the threshold of Christmas and Epiphany. We are still in the season of Christmas – the 9th in the Twelve Days of Christmas. We continue to celebrate Incarnation – the coming of the Christ –Christ with us, beside us, within us – Christ alive in the fullness of humanity for the healing and liberating of all creation. And then on Thursday, we’ll move into Epiphany – which means “to make manifest” – this Incarnation – we look to how it is made manifest in the world and in us – surprising us at almost every turn.
We gather this morning on the threshold of a New Year –
and on the threshold of Epiphany.
And we turn to this Epiphany story that we have come to know so well – the story of the Magi. Here are some of the things we know: We may sing “We Three Kings” – but we know that the Magi aren’t kings – they are wise people – astrologers, philosophers, wisdom bearers – they search the stars and all creation for wisdom and for meaning. And we know that there weren’t necessarily three wise men – the Bible doesn’t tell us how many – this is a travelling group of wisdom seekers – they are seeking meaning together. And we know that they aren’t necessarily wise men – there may have been wise women in their midst too.
We know the story: These Magi see a star at its rising and hear of a newborn king, and they set out on a journey to pay homage – to see what has happened at the rising of a new star in the sky. King Herod hears about this too – and he’s not so... spiritually curious – because King Herod is not eager to meet a rival king. Herod is frightened, Scripture says. So he calls together his advisors. They’re no help – they only quote the prophetic promise of a ruler who will come to shepherd God’s people – which makes King Herod even more fearful and insecure (because he’s pretty sure that’s not him).
So Herod schemes. He calls for these wise folk – the Magi – to find out what they know. “Where is this child king? I’d love to meet him. Go. Search. And when you find him – bring me word, so I can go and bring him a gift as well.” We know – and perhaps the Magi do too – that Herod wants to find this rival king baby – so he can destroy him.
The Magi set out – following the star they have seen at its rising, until it stops over the place where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph now live. The Magi arrive, and they are overwhelmed with joy. They enter the house, and they experience the Christ. Their joy overflows into praise and worship, and they offer the child and the family gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
This is the story that we know so well – the wise folk traveling from afar and offering their gifts to the infant Jesus. Sometimes we tell it early, in the Christmas story on Christmas Eve – the pageant of those who arrive at the Christ – the shepherds, the angels, the wise folk, and us.
This morning, I want us to stand in a very particular moment in the story. When I come to this story, I usually focus on the journey there – the Magi follow the star into an experience of Epiphany – the journey toward Jesus. We focus on how they find their way there, and what they find.
But this year, I want to invite us to stand in that moment just after–
just after the Magi experience the Christ,
just after they pay him homage,
just after they give their gifts –
that moment just after – when they turn for home.
Having followed the star they saw in its rising, having navigated the scheming of Herod, and having experienced the Christ, the Messiah, the one of whom the prophets spoke, the Magi now turn toward the next journey.
They stand at a threshold. They stand in that liminal space between what has come before and what comes next – the journey that has brought them to this moment – and the journey they are about to undertake. They have traveled far, and now they have experienced the Christ, and they stand at the threshold of the what-next – a threshold moment pregnant with possibility, and choice, and the unknown.
Irish poet John O’Donohue talks of thresholds as “crossings” – crossing from one experience into the next. For him, a threshold is not “simply a boundary, but rather a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, atmospheres.” It is a place to pause and consider – to make meaning. For the Magi, this threshold is a frontier between the world of Herod that they have traversed to get here, and the world of the Christ that is only now opening up to them.
I want to share a photo I took on a morning walk not too long ago:
As I think I’ve mentioned, I walk almost every day, usually in the morning. I walk to the end of my street, and then on into the dedicated open space beyond. This is where my street ends; and you can see there’s a little threshold that you step over, and you’re on the path.
If you stand right here, where the photo is taken you can see that you’re leaving the street, the neighborhood, the morning bustle of folks going to work, kids heading to school – the stuff of daily life. You step over that threshold, and you’re on a path that leads into the hills – lately, a very muddy path – a bit more quiet – with space and scope for the imagination – the occasional coyote – and did I mention? lots of mud.
Later, as you return from that walk – as you approach from the other side, you come back to this threshold – only this time – you’re leaving behind the muddy path, the thoughts that happened there, and placing your foot back on the steady ground of street and sidewalk, a moment of re-entry and re-engagement with the world of humans.
This threshold between street and muddy path is more than a boundary. As O’ Donohue might say, it divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. It’s a crossing. It’s a space between two different, but adjacent worlds – two different experiences. It’s a space for pausing, and making meaning, as you step from one experience into the next.
Calendars offer up all sorts of thresholds for us – thresholds fixed with regularity in time – with the possibility to reflect on where we have been – and where we might be headed – the threshold of a new year – the movement from one season to the next – autumn into winter, winter into spring. Birthdays – a moment to reflect on life lived up till now. Anniversaries of significant moments – a date we remember an experience of joy, or an experience of loss.
Life offers all manner of threshold – whether we choose them or not, whether we welcome them or not – the threshold of birth, or adulthood, or parenthood. The threshold of a new relationship, or a new job, or retirement. The threshold of all the experiences that come our way – of love, or illness, or deep loss, or forgiveness, or new-found liberation. The threshold of a new learning, or a life-changing experience.
Thresholds by their nature involve change – life’s movement from one moment to the next. And so, John O’Donohue notes that, at these threshold moments, “a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.” Even so, he suggests that at any time – but perhaps particularly at the start of a new year – we can ask ourself:
· “At which threshold am I now standing?
· At this moment in my life, what am I leaving? What do I need to leave?
· What am I about to enter?
· What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold?
· What gift would enable me to do it?”
· Who will journey with me?
Thresholds open up the opportunity for us to pause and to ask – Where have I been and what have I learned there? What is being made manifest here and now? And, how shall I now live?
The Magi stand at the threshold of experiencing the Christ – the Messiah – Emmanuel – God with us. They look back over their shoulder at the way they have come – a way fraught with peril. The road they have travelled has run through the world of King Herod – the world of Empire – a world dominated by power-over – a world in which frightened, powerful Kings hunt down the vulnerable. And Scripture says that they are warned in a dream not to return by the way of Herod.
As they stand under the star they saw at its rising, at this threshold, they experience the promise of God-with-us made manifest – not in the raw power of a frantic, ranting king – but in an infant – tender and strong. And as Barbara Brown Taylor says, “None of their old maps work anymore... They go home by another way.”
The Magi stand at this threshold and look forward into the world of the Christ. And what they find there – what we find there – as we turn the page and move into the next chapter of the story – is a new world, a new creation, a world defined not by power-over but by blessing. Like this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek and vulnerable, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are you.
Howard Thurman doesn’t use the word threshold, but he talks about something he calls “The Growing Edge” – where weary bodies encounter new life, and he says this:
"All around us worlds are dying and new worlds are being born; all around us life is dying and life is being born. The fruit ripens on the tree, the roots are silently at work in the darkness of the earth against a time when there shall be new lives, fresh blossoms, green fruit. Such is the growing edge! It is the extra breath from the exhausted lung, the one more thing to try when all else has failed, the upward reach of life when weariness closes in upon all endeavor. This is the basis of hope in moments of despair, the incentive to carry on when times are out of joint and people have lost their reason, the source of confidence when worlds crash and dreams whiten into ash. The birth of a child — life’s most dramatic answer to death — this is the growing edge incarnate. Look well to the growing edge!" 
The Good News of Christmas – of Incarnation – is that in every threshold, God is with us, liberating and empowering us into the next new thing. These threshold moments give us the opportunity to look to the growing edge, and to find our life there.
© 2022 Scott Clark
 See Stephanie Buckhanon Crowder, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/epiphany-of-our-lord/commentary-on-matthew-21-12-9; Elisabeth Johnson, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/epiphany-of-our-lord/commentary-on-matthew-21-12-11  See John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York; Convergent Books, 2008).  Id. p.48.  Id. pp. 47-48  Id. p. 48.  Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way (London: Cowley Publications, 1999), p.31.  Howard Thurman, The Growing Edge (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press, 1956).