There’s a star in the east on Christmas morn. Rise up wise men (and women) and follow. Rise up and follow with a star in your eye.

Theories abound as to the nature of the star. Was it Halley’s Comet, or did Saturn and Jupiter and Mars converge in the constellation Pisces, or was there a supernova in a galaxy far, far away?

Theories abound as to the nature of the star, yet as I read the familiar story, I wondered, “What did the wise men see that Herod didn’t see? Or perhaps more in keeping with the idea of Epiphany, which means “unveiling” or “revelation,” what were they shown that left Herod in the dark?”

In an excerpt from her book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, contemporary Christian author Kathleen Norris contrasts the fear of Herod with the faith of the season of Epiphany.

Everything he (Herod) does, he does out of fear. Fear can be a useful defense mechanism, but when a person is always on the defensive like Herod, it becomes debilitating and self defeating. To me Herod symbolizes the terrible destruction that fearful people can leave in their own wake if their fear is unacknowledged, if they have power but can only use it in furtive, pathetic, and futile attempts at self-preservation.

Herod's fear is the epitome of what Jung calls the shadow. Herod demonstrates where such fear can lead when it does not come to light but remains in the dark depths of the unconscious. Ironically, Herod appears in the Christian liturgical year when the gospel is read on the Epiphany, a feast of light.

Tom Troeger adds another note of irony to Herod, “Herod’s claim that he wants to pay homage to the child is more than a ruse. It is a piece of irony that communicates the earth shattering character of Matthew’s story. The irony is that Herod unknowingly states what in truth he needs to do. The despot who rules by violence and fear needs to prostrate himself before the power of compassion and justice, needs to give himself entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child whom the magi are seeking.”[1]


Herod needs a star in his eye, but fear blinds him to what’s right in front of him. Wise men who’ve risked making fools of themselves by following a star; wise men who’ve spent fortunes to go on a journey with no definite destination; wise men who’ve put their lives on the line in pursuit of the promise of peace; wise men who’ve overcome their fear thanks to a star in their eyes.


There’s a star in the east. Will we follow? Will we give ourselves entirely to the grace that is incarnate in the child, or will we play it safe, keep our risks manageable, and stick to our comfort zone? Who knows where we’ll go and what we’ll do when we follow the star in our eyes? We just might find the child, and in finding him, find what we’ve been looking for all along.


The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote:


Moonless darkness

Stands between,

Past, O Past, no more be seen!

But the Bethlehem star may lead me

To the sight of Him who freed me

From the self that I have been.


Make me pure, Lord:

Thou art holy:

Make me meek, Lord:

Thou wert lowly:

Now beginning, and always:

Now begin, on Christmas day.[2]


Don’t be afraid. May God bless us, and bless Pennside Presbyterian Church as we follow the star in our eyes. Amen.








[1] Thomas H. Troeger, “Homiletical Perspective,” Matthew 2:1-12, in Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1. ed. David Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. 215.

[2] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Moonless Darkness,” in The Incarnation: An Anthology. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2002. 146.