Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-15
Good morning. Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and a safe New Year’s Eve, and that you got to spend lots of quality time with loved ones, wherever they may be. These holidays remind us what matters most in our lives: God, who loved us so much that he came into the world in the person of Jesus, and our earthly families who loved us into being, or who you loved into being—I know that several of you traveled to be with your kids and grandkids.
I officiated two funerals last week. Neither of the deceased were active members of this congregation. The truth is, I’ve officiated more funerals for people who weren’t part of the congregations I’ve served than I have for the church members of the congregations that I served.
This may sound strange to some of you, but I love funerals. I believe I am called to walk into dark places and offer words of comfort, peace, and hope. This is true in situations other than funerals—and frankly, it’s true for all of us—but funerals are where I can share some of my unique gifts. And, in a sense, funerals are a space for evangelism. I don’t shout, “Come to Jesus!” or even, “Come to First Presbyterian Church!” But I do get the chance to connect with people who aren’t part of this congregation; I get the opportunity to listen.
Often, I hear a lot of reasons why a person didn’t go to church. People are quick to tell me that they believe in God and they love Jesus, even if they haven’t been to church in thirty or forty years. They tell me that they still pray, and some even read the Bible occasionally, but they don’t feel the need to go to church.
To be fair, I hear this at the cigar shop, too. I’ve got a buddy who says he’s glad he grew up in the Church, it gave him a good foundation, taught him morals, but church just isn’t for him anymore. It’s a common sentiment. But it’s a little different when I hear it at a funeral.
When people tell me this at a funeral, I think they’re looking for some kind of absolution; they want me to tell them that it’s okay that their husband, or wife, or father, or sister, or son, or daughter didn’t go to church. They tell me how kind their loved one was. They want me to tell them that’s good enough. They are anxious about the loved one who died, and they might be anxious about their own decisions.
Of course, that’s not how it works, but a funeral is not the place for me to correct years of bad theology. However, it is a place where I can speak into the anxiety and fear that accompanies the passing of a loved one.
Anxiety is dangerous.
Anxiety can lead us to make bad decisions.
Anxiety is one of the central themes in the story of the Epiphany.
In our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, the Magi have come to bring gifts to the baby Jesus. But they don’t go straight to Bethlehem, they go to Jerusalem, where they visit King Herod.
The word Magi comes from the Greek word magoi, and it doesn’t mean wise men or astrologers. The name magoi indicates that they are priests who serve a Persian god named Zoroaster. This also tells us that they were outsiders, foreigners. Yet they saw a truth that few people recognized.