“Follow That Star” Rev Michael Barnes 6/1/19

Naïve Trust or Violence or Both?

There are many ways to engage this popular story of the Magi seeking the Christ Child. In worship this morning, I will reflect on the bright star, its significance, and the journeys it calls forth.

Contrasting the behaviour of Herod with the Magi opens up the story in a different way. In Matthew’s narrative, the Magi emerge as individuals deeply grounded in trust. They left their homes, ‘the summer palaces on slopes, the silken girls bringing sherbet,’ for something unknown. Their only frame of reference was a star. T.S Eliot’s powerful poem characterises the result of their journey as uncertainty and dis-ease; ‘hardly satisfactory,’ you may say!

Perhaps, they were naïve. However, herein lies the most profound level of trust: it guarantees no particular or pleasing result, albeit that the journey it entails is, somehow, sufficient reward.

Herod, on the other hand, knew little of trust. His stock in trade was violence, a time-honoured tactic to keep power in one’s own hands. (There is a teasing question present in this story; where does real authority lie? Is it with Herod or the Christ Child? Is it exercised through coercive power, or trusting a wandering star?)

In the birth of Christ, the Magi discerned a pathway to joy, whereas Herod saw a potential danger that had to be removed. Even if he killed innocent children, he would eliminate the threat.

This contrast suggests a neat demarcation. However, it’s not as straightforward because it was the Magi, in their trust, who alerted Herod to a threat, which he predictably dealt with by violence.

Their trust unwittingly led to violence.

Forging a pathway ahead based on discerning truth and practising trust is harder than we imagine.