The Eighth Day of Christmas: The Multitude of Angels

January 2, 2014

A person with cancer often becomes isolated; I have observed that my world has become smaller since November 4. Before I got sick, I was traveling to Kenya and Uganda on vacation. Now it is a major field trip to walk twenty minutes around the block surrounding my house.  Pretty much anyone I see now has come to where I am, since circulation in public places during flu season poses an unnecessary but very real risk to immunosuppressed people. One gets lulled into believing that reality is very small and even quiet, but the Eighth Day of Christmas carries a reminder of the noisy and boisterous reality surrounding the God of the universe.

The shepherds operated in a small world. Understood to be an uneducated and uncouth underclass in the Ancient Near East, those tending flocks had a single task. Granted, at night, the heavenly canopy was theirs to gaze upon and enjoy. And it wouldn’t surprise me if shepherds convened when the day’s work was done for storytelling and perhaps a little play-acting. But they were not recreational travelers, scholars, or philosophers; their world was small and, for the most part, peaceful.

So that night when first the angel appeared to them to tell them about Jesus’ birth, they got their first glimpse of glory. That experience, just by itself, would have been enough to rock their world. But what happened next was absolutely mind-boggling:

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those
whom he favors!” (Matthew 2:13f)

All of a sudden, a multitude of angels appears! It would seem that heaven opened up to them, and they received an outpouring of blessing through this vision of the heavenly host united in song, giving glory to God. The shepherds would never have been the same since.

It turns out, angels appear throughout the biblical narrative, singly, in pairs and trios, and sometimes even in multitudes. Their purpose, according to the writer of Hebrews, is to maintain a perpetual worship of God and to be available for divine service (1:4-14). That service takes many forms beyond the scope of our study today, but suffice it to say, angels serve as announcers of God’s good news and judgment, protectors of vulnerable people, celebrators of conversions, and ministers through trial and temptation. They are spirits and therefore immortal, but they are not gods. They operate in the very presence of God regardless of the particular task to which they are assigned.

So when the shepherds’ senses were overwhelmed with the chorus of a multitude of angels, they were experiencing a heavenly concert. It is as if a curtain parted to reveal what is ordinarily going on out of our sight.  Heaven leaked its tuneful blessing that night, and the shepherds’ world immediately expanded.

I have never had a moment like this, in which I felt heaven had leaked into my world quite so literally. The fact that a chorus of angels has not performed specifically for me bothers me not at all, because I am content knowing a concert awaits me when I make the journey from this life to the next (a long time from now, I pray). I also know without a doubt—if it is necessary for the building of my faith for Jesus to conduct the angelic choir in my presence—that such a vision is possible. What is important, though, is simply knowing that the angels and the saints who have gone before me are engaged in this amazing musical happening, all for the glory of God and the witness to his power and might.

It doesn’t prevent me from praying every once in awhile for a leak from heaven. Along with the apostle Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). At times of deepest discouragement, it is a comfort to ask Jesus for a moment, for heavenly eyesight, for just a tiny leak of his glory to keep me going. Reading about it in the Scriptures is enough for now, and with that, I am content, knowing my world is not as small as my present experience would indicate.




5 Responses to “The Eighth Day of Christmas: The Multitude of Angels”

  1. “…. nearer now than when we first believed!’

  2. Jodie Says:

    What we need is a Snowden Angel, or a heavenly wiki-leaks.

    Seriously though, I think God reveals only in proportion to our nuckleheadedness. The more thick headed we are, the more he reveals. But blessed are those who have not seen yet still believe.

  3. Jessica Fitzpatrick Says:

    Hello Mary,
    I don’t know if you will remember me but I just ran across your blog and was very excited to find it. You are such a strong memory in my life for so many reasons and I have always wanted to find out where you were these days. On Nov. 5th 2005 you married my husband and I, the following week you baptized my son and then myself. More importantly, you helped me begin my walk with the Lord. I have scanned a bit of your blog (will be reading a lot more as the days go on) and I see what you are dealing with now. I just want you to know my family will be adding our prayers to the many for the battle you are facing now. I would love to hear from you but I know you have a lot going on in your life and will understand if this is not an option at this time. No matter you will always have my prayers, my love and my gratitude for all you did for me then and the ways you have helped since even though I haven’t spoken to you in almost 8 years.

    Blessings to you,
    Jessica (LaBounty) Fitzpatrick

  4. Dale Witt Says:

    Hello Mary:
    Thanks for a winsome reflection. It resonated with a Christina Rossetti hymn in The Hymnal 1933 PCUSA: “The shepherds had an angel, The Wise Men had a star, But what have I, a little child, To guide me home from far, Where glad stars sing together, And singing angels are?/ Those shepherds, through the lonely night, Sat watching by their sheep, Until they saw the heavenly host Who neither tire nor sleep, All singing ‘Glory, glory’ In festival they keep./ Lord Jesus is my Guardian, So I can nothing lack; The lambs lie in His bosom Along life’s dangerous track: The willful lambs that go astray He, bleeding, fetches back./ Lord, bring me nearer day by day, Till I my voice unite, And sing my ‘Glory, glory,’ With angels clad in white, All ‘Glory, glory,’ given to Thee, Through all the heavenly height.”
    God’s journeying mercies to you,
    Dale Witt

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