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)