There is a word I love – liminal. Yes, nobody knows what it means. Or, you all do, just not as that word, but as a gut feeling. It means a sensory threshold. A liminal sound would be one that you can barely hear. A liminal vision is that one just on the horizon. But my favorite use, and probably its most common use, is in regards to things of the Spirit. A liminal space is that sense of walking on holy ground, or the other way might be “walking past the graveyard.” A liminal time is usually only noticed in hindsight. My middle child is in something of one right now in college applications. As an old guy I can recognize it. For him, it just expresses itself as procrastination. That’s a common way to know you are in a liminal state, you procrastinate. You are trying to stay in the known, not willing to give way to the unknown just yet. Liminal states are necessarily scary, because what is on the other side is unknown or at least unexperienced.
Advent for me has always been a liminal time. The old year is passing away; the new thing is coming. You have things like congregational meetings. You prepare budgets. Officers are renewed. In the church year sense the old has already passed away, but Advent is a strange season even on the church calendar. It was added as a season of preparation for the staggering mystery of the incarnation. Sometimes that preparation was penitential. John the Baptist appears twice in Advent with his calls to repent and warnings about what is to come. I often try to imagine what a John the Baptist would look like today and usually fail to come up with anything convincing. The Baptist is a liminal figure proclaiming things are about to change dramatically, repent in preparation. That penitential sense is usually captured in the purples of the season. But the liminal nature of Advent to me is not so much about those purples, which are constant in this life, as about the blues. They are the blues of right before dawn. It is still night, but the sun is just below the horizon. As we sang at the end of last Sunday, “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”
And that is what the historic text for the first Sunday of Advent shows us, Jesus on Palm Sunday entering Jerusalem. Anytime the King arrives it is a liminal space because the King has absolute authority. His word is law. But approaching the King is always scary because you don’t know the ruling. But that is part of why Jesus presents himself twice. The first time humbly, riding a donkey. The first time toward the cross, which addresses all our sins, so that we know the judgement. The second time to set us free. To set us free from those sins that still encumber us. To set us free from our fears of this liminal space.
Advent is the season we ponder living in a liminal space. Knowing and seeing what is on the horizon – the judgement and the New Jerusalem, the King arriving in power not grace. Yet, that dawn is not yet. Today is still the day of grace. Today the King still comes humbly, as a little child, as that knocking at your heart. It is a liminal space that says “repent and believe, for you salvation comes quickly.” A liminal space that reminds us “all idols than shall perish and Satan’s lying cease, and Christ shall raise his scepter, decreeing endless peace.” A Great and Mighty wonder lies just beyond this liminal time.