Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How Many is a Multitude?

In January of 1968, I lived in a tiny hunting cabin in Jenningsville, Pennsylvania. We had a pot-belly stove against the frigid upstate Pennsylvania mountain winter, no running water, and an outhouse. This is where I lived with my husband and my two year old son, and it was into this world that I welcomed my second child, Joseph. 

I used disposable diapers (much different from the disposable diapers of 2015) because there was no way to wash cloth diapers as often as a newborn baby needs to be changed. I nursed only partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it was just too hard to get the clean water to sterilize bottles, or to make formula. Our water was hauled jug by jug from a mountain stream about ½ a mile up the road. 

But, once those early months passed, and spring came, it was a wonderful place to be raising two little boys. Those of you who know me now, would not have recognized the young woman who herded a toddler with a baby strapped to her back when we went wild berry picking up and down the mountains.  

Back in those days, I gained an appreciation for things that seem almost foreign now, but things that have never completely left my heart or mind.

I remember the night years later that I looked up at the Christmas sky and thought of a woman who gave birth to her first child in a stable. I remembered how hard it was to keep a baby clean and warm in a cabin, and couldn’t even imagine an infant in a stable. I at least had friends and neighbors close by. Granted, in the country, close by meant 5 or 10 miles away, but I knew people, and we had a phone if I needed someone. I was 23 when Joseph was born, not 14 or 15 like Mary – the mother of Jesus. This was my second delivery, after an uncomplicated first delivery. 

Mary was a child, with her young husband, with no nice clean hospital or midwife. This was her first baby. There was no mom there or nurse to hold her hand and tell her to just breathe through the pain, or to reassure her. There were no clean sheets or medical personal if there had been emergency with the birth. They were in a strange town in a stable, and alone.

I have thought of the story in Luke, and then thought of it from the perspective of a mom.
She was in a place where animals were kept. They would have been walking through mud and feces. They would have been herded into the stable through streets clogged with swarms of people in the vicinity for the census count. It’s uncomprehensive to think of all the germs tracked into that little dwelling – probably a cave kept just for the animals. In this environment, a child, was to give birth not only to her first child, but to the Son of God, to the King of Kings, to the Messiah. 

In the scriptures, it talks about shepherds watching their flocks by night – actually guarding against wolves, thieves and other predators. They would have been watching, being aware of where their animals were, and aware of any change in the environment. 

Can you imagine the devil at this moment? At no time in our lives are we more vulnerable than at the moment of birth. We leave a safe water bubble – always fed, always warm, always protected from the outside world, and are literally pushed and shoved into what would be a cold, harsh, and painful place. We have literally seconds to go from being water breathers to air breathers, and many babies don’t survive that transition. We are attached to our mother with a thin tube that today would be surgically severed under the most sterile conditions to avoid infection entering the child through the umbilical opening. Marry would have severed the tube with her teeth, or her husband would have cut it with the same knife that he used to gut animals or scale fish. 

I can almost see Satan laughing and rubbing his hands together as he dispatched every germ – every demon from hell, into that stable, but then………..

“…there was a multitude of the heavenly host….”

In some translations, it says a “heavenly Army”, or the “army from Heaven”.

All the songs and stories talk about the angels singing and praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Bible talks about the light being so bright that the shepherds were afraid. These were men who would stand down a mountain lion with a rock or a stick, and they were afraid.

I think all that happened, but I think there was more.

We tend to think of angels as pretty little children with blond hair, wings and harps. In the Bible, they are described as fearsome sights. Creatures created in the image of man, but not like man. They are often described as carrying flaming swords. They are capable of compassion, but when God dispatches them to help, the first words to ever leave their mouth is always, “Be not afraid!” cause these are big, scary dudes! 

So here are the shepherds, guys not unaccustomed to fighting to protect their sheep, a brand new baby being born in a filthy home to animals, a frightened teenage couple, and here come the angels. 

How many came? The Bible says a “Multitude”. How many is a multitude? I have no idea. We only know that a multitude is a whole bunch. The Greek word for “host” means stars, so if we can’t count the stars, I would think that the number of Heavenly Host or angels that night blanketed the stars from sight. 

I think they came to announce the birth to the shepherds and to the earth. I think they came to welcome the Christ Child, but I think they had a far larger purpose. Angels are God’s ‘Secret Service Detail’, who have one job and only one job, protection! Just as our presidential secret service detail would and occasionally have, given their lives to protect the President of the United States, so the Angels dispatched that night would have been there to protect the Holy Family in that little stable. 

I don’t think Satan expected that kind of show of force, but the Heavenly Father protected His child, and He dispatched Angels. 

When I hear “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” or “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, I just see every demon in that little stable slithering back to hell in fear. 

The angels also proclaimed God’s pleasure at the birth, His pleasure for the new mother, and His pleasure with the man who had endured so much to stand beside this young woman. 

“8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Luke 2: 8-15 NKJV

Well, that’s my opinion folks. Merry Christmas and God Bless You!