“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…” 1 John 4:18.
In considering some of the angelic encounters in the Scripture, it occurs to me that the angels’ first pronouncement is often, “Fear not.” Humans from our reality would naturally be shaken by these visitors from the heavenly reality.
As I consider this on Epiphany Eve, what I share here may take the reader in a lot of different directions. I’m very fond of Epiphany, even more so than Christmas. It is considered the Christmas of the Gentiles, celebrated on January 6 rather than December 25, because it centers around the visit of the Magi to the child Jesus. These remarkable men were not of the same faith persuasion as Jesus, yet they sought Him out by following a “star.”
It’s something of an enigma that they could “follow a star” to find Him. It was something they “saw” – whether this star was some sort of cosmic phenomenon, or something they ascertained by use of their sciences, we do not know. What we deduce is that it was not visible to many, including the advisors in the courts of King Herod, or the shepherds who visited Jesus two years earlier. What’s hinted at is that not everybody could see it, and that there were some pretty unusual things going on in the Cosmos during the days the Messiah was making His entrance into the world.
Shepherds, who were of the nation of Israel, were frightened at the appearance of the angels, who had to relieve their fears before they could find their way to Jesus. It seems curious that the ones who were among God’s chosen had no experience with any higher order beings and messengers of God.
The Magi, who were not of the Jews, however, were aware of His arrival and very eager to visit Him. They knew of the star, that it heralded a King Who would be the game changer of all time, yet the Prince of Peace, and the very extension of God’s unconditional love to all mankind.
Naturally they hastened to King Herod as a first course of action to determine where He might be found. This was not good news to the cunning king. Pretending to want to honor the Messiah, he asked them to return to him with news of Jesus’ whereabouts.
Yet something supernatural happened to these Gentile sages. They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod who perceived this Messiah as a usurper. Yet He was and is the antithesis to everything the kingdoms of this world stand for – surrender to the Father in Heaven, rather than control over men and domains. This child embodied perfect Love – divine, unconditional and extended it to any and all.
The question is, why do we resist encountering Him, if this is so, and we so desperately need an Epiphany only He can provide as a real experience, both individually and collectively? (Epiphany: a revelation, insight, or sudden understanding.)
Maybe there is something revealed here which addresses that question.
Might there be modern “shepherds” today who themselves have never had a real epiphany? Are they taught to fear genuine spiritual awakening and experience by their “training” with its many theological reasons why that is a bad idea.
Frequently these good men are busy tending their flocks. It could be said that it pulls their gaze and focus downward into managing the sheep in their congregations. They may have a focus of warding off predators. Sadly, in some cases, it must be admitted that there is a tendency to pull the wool over the sheep’s eyes or even fleece the flock. Attention and training are on herd management and control, and making sure the flock is growing in numbers, but not in spiritual depth.
Seldom are the sheep encouraged to look for a one on one encounter with the Love that casts out all fear and actually can create depth of understanding. Although the flock may be encouraged to pray, the shepherds may not be doing a lot of that themselves. There’s little if any encouragement toward contemplative practices – like personal prayer, meditation, contemplation, or allowing for the gifts of the Spirit, and so forth. It’s simply “un-herd” of!
What may be needed for these shepherds is a genuine encounter with and pronouncement of a heavenly messenger, who directly touches their heart with “Fear not!” Then they themselves may inwardly hear the angelic harmonies, run to meet Jesus, and encourage others to encounter the perfect Love that casts out all fear.
Then their testimony changes wildly and radically. It is based not upon books and traditions but upon an epiphany through Perfect Love. Then it is possible to point all Souls, without personal judgment of them, to an encounter with Christ.
The Magi, on the other hand, are lit up with and guided by His star. They draw closer and closer through a long and arduous journey, to experience Jesus’ Presence – surrendering to Him all that represents their personal will and ambitions, status, prestige, powers, and wealth, without question – to be led by the Spirit of God.
They were also warned by God in a dream not to return to treacherous and cunning Herod who perceived this Child as a threat and would ferret Him out to destroy Him.
The story says (Matthew 2:12) that they left for their own country “by another way”.
This little verse speaks volumes! We encounter Jesus Presence in our natural way, and we depart by another way, His Way – transformed by the Perfect Love that casts out fear, having experienced Epiphany one on one with Him! With these thoughts let us enter into the observance of our “second Christmas”.