On Thresholds – The Rev. Michelle Meech
January 03, 2021
A sermon preached to the online community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY on our celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany transferred to January 3, 2021. Read the scripture here. Click the play button above to listen along.
This time of year is a threshold – a transition from one year into the next, from one place into another. This time is both full of anticipation and plans and hope as well as full of anxiety and a little fear. It’s also a time when things feel a bit uneasy. Like we’ve been taken out of our ordinary lives in ordinary time and sent to some kind of holding area. Floating a bit between one place and another. The uneasiness comes from our need to know exactly where we are. Or where we’re going to be. So that we can get things done.
All thresholds have this kind of effect. Entering a room for the first time, even if it’s something you’re looking forward to. Being carried over a threshold is a tradition that comes to mind. And there’s the big threshold, of course, into life and back out of it. People who work in hospice care know very well how difficult that place can be. Groups called threshold choirs have developed in response, people who come and sing while a person is crossing over from life into death.
But if we pay attention, thresholds happen all the time. When we read something that changes us. When we watch a movie that shifts our understanding. When we meet someone who opens our heart or our mind. These are thresholds – moments when we transition from one self into a another self. Something inside of us resonates and helps us come to rest.
There are thresholds that are longer than a moment too, whole spans of time when we cannot exactly see what transition is taking place until we wake up one day to realize that we have changed or shifted over time – how our bodies shift over time, how our thinking shifts about the world in which we live, how our speech shifts slightly by living amongst other people.
Of course, a threshold is not just something that marks movement from one place to the next. It’s also a marker of tolerance. We have a threshold of pain, for example. A high threshold means that we can tolerate pain, a low one means that we cannot, that it bleeds over some imagined barrier into our worlds and we’re not immune to its influence.
Regardless of how this term is used, it signifies change in some way – a change affecting us, or us participating in some change either actively… or passively, simply because the world is shifting toward the sun and we move along with time and space. And one of the reasons this time of year is filled with anticipation is that we can sometimes see change as a hopeful thing. Hope that is the growth of the lifeforce within us, a shift toward the light, just like plants do when they follow the sun’s movement through the day. We too can change direction, we can follow the light, when we pay attention to how we need to be nourished.
“Arise! Shine! For your light has come.” The words from Isaiah beckon us from our sleep to cross the threshold of consciousness into awakening. “Arise! Shine! Lift up your eyes and look around. Then you shall see and be radiant. Your heart shall thrill and rejoice.”
What is this? This that begs our awakening? That calls to us in our sleep? From our sleep? We’ve all probably had that experience of some kind of noise that brings you out of your dreams into wakefulness. The noise, somehow incorporated into the storyline of your dream until you cannot deny its presence any longer and you cross some threshold of awareness that lets you know you are no longer asleep, but awake.
What is this? This story we have been given in scripture. This star we have seen in our mind’s eye. This light that called us to follow it, summoning us from somewhere in the depths of our sleep to cross over a threshold into new awareness?
It is nothing short of belief. This awakening is belief itself.
The story of the magi is a story of belief. A story of bringing ourselves over a new threshold to allow something new to be true. Imperceptible on the outside at first, belief changes the inner landscape of our being as we cross this threshold. How it works in us is nothing short of a miracle.
Of course, when belief first calls to us, like the magi in today’s story, we bring with us the gifts and the knowledge we have accumulated because that’s what we bring to every task. Our cunning. Our strategy. Our will. Our stories of power that give us some sense of safety in this world. And we want our belief to fit with what we think we already know. We don’t want to be changed, not initially.
But as we continue the journey to cross this particular threshold, this story that we have, we realize that belief in Love is not about any of these things. What Love really wants from us is not our shiniest selves. What Love wants from us is our most vulnerable self, the part of us that we would rather leave behind the threshold in that other room, that other place of who we don’t want to be. Perhaps who we wish we never were. Or who we had to leave behind in order to get along in this world.
But this Love asks us to bring this tender self with us, the unhealed part. Because whatever is unhealed in us will always keep us split between sleep and awareness if it is left behind. And it becomes our worst fears. Our most painful stories. It’s not that we wear them on our jackets like some badge of honor, but when we bring them with us and offer them up to be healed, Love teaches us that everyone carries these kinds of stories.
And, more importantly, Love teaches us to let go of them to believe in something else, to integrate them into the bigger story of who we are.
This is how belief changes our inner landscape: We make a choice to bring all of ourselves across the threshold, to lay down our worldly burdens at the foot of the manger and accept Love. To Arise. And to shine. To lift up our eyes and learn how to radiate this love for others who need to find it.
The wise magi in today’s story were able to cross this threshold, to bring their full selves with them. They brought their worldly gifts and burdens and laid them down at Love’s feet and, in so doing, teach us how to do the same. Our other teacher is, of course, Herod – the one who could not make the journey, so tied to his worldly power. And Herod will forever be this character for us who desires to be something other than he is, using his power to manipulate and control. Instead of coming to the manger himself and crossing that threshold of love into belief.
Imperceptible at first, belief changes our inner landscape to believe in Love itself as a supreme value. And then, belief begins to shape our actions and our lives in ways that we could not have predicted. In ways that only God understands because we cannot foresee the paths of those who we will meet in our lives, whose hearts we will come to know and be known by. Belief in this Love, this Love that gives us so much… belief in this Love is a threshold kind of experience. The same person but forever changed.
But it’s still a little anxiety-provoking because we don’t know where we’re going and we’re not sure we’re going to have what we need or even who we’ll be when we get there. But we soon figure out that whatever we need will come. And whoever shows up is who is supposed to be there with us. And all the things we know and the skills we have accumulated, they come in handy but they aren’t what’s important. What’s important is Love itself.
Every year, this time is a significant transition. But it seems to be a particularly powerful transition this year because we’ve been on this threshold for most of the year. We are still grieving what we’ve lost and still coming to know this new space. Grieving the loss of so much life and coming to know who we are on the other side. Grieving the misunderstanding that we are independent from one another and coming to know our interdependence upon one another. Grieving the false power of the world and its ways and coming to know that the illusion we’ve all been laboring to uphold is founded upon the bedrock of white supremacy. Grieving the false connection of power and coming to know the real connection of love.
So in this transition, my beloveds, as we cross this threshold, take some time. Spend some time in the silence that only winter can provide under a blanket of snow. Be gentle with your tender selves. Be patient with others as they find their way too.
But know that the light has come. It shines for us now as it has for all of eternity, awakening us all, calling all from our sleep to believe. To bring our full selves to cross the threshold and kneel at the manger where Love lies waiting to be adored inside our own hearts.
Arise! Shine. For your light has come.