For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~ Isaiah 9:6
I spent a portion of my youth living in Rattlesnake Holler, Indiana near Martinsville. Located off Mahalasville Road, vearing to the right at the "Y" in the road where the old Catholic Cemetery sits, and then makes its way towards the Morgan Monroe State Forest.
The valley was the home to less than a dozen families. Mostly farmers and factory workers that made the fifty mile drive into Indianapolis each day.
Our property had both hills and farm land. We raised a garden a little over an acre in size on one side of our home. A creek lined in sycamore trees framed the front of the property along the tar road, while our barn, made from large tree trunks and tin, served as both a place for cows and hay.
Back near the animal stalls was a work bench. During the winter, my mom would keep cabbage in a large crock covered by a large circular piece of tin, that would ferment and become sauerkraut. Often I would lift the brick that held the lid in place and dip my fingers into the mixture and taste the batch on really cold days. Steam would rise from the large pot as I opened the lid.
It was my job to keep water available for the cattle and provide fresh straw for both bedding and feedings.
The Indiana winters seemed to last forever. Although I enjoyed building winter forts, and taking old tire inner tubes and sledding down the hill behind our home where a spring-fed pond provided a place for ice skating, the early dark and cloudy days would end so quickly, and the night time just seemed to last forever.
One winter was extremely harsh. A blizzard had settled in the area. My sister was snowed in at friend's in town. Our water had frozen up several times in our home.
Getting water to the cows was nearly impossible and so I had resorted to taking a large iron tamp pipe for building fences up to the pond to create an access to water. I was literally digging through a foot of ice that year.
We had several pregnant cows that year. It just never failed. On the coldest and darkest of nights one would refuse to come down the hill to the barn.
By four pm each day I had to make sure the cattle were in the barn before it became too dark.
The thick pine and deciduous forest quickly would embrace the darkness and going out into the woods would mean walking in complete darkness.
On one particular day all the cows were accounted for but one. She had been acting strange that day. She didn't eat in her regular area, and seemed to shun the others.
I did my usual call, but she was no where to be found.
Never fails! Cold and darkness, snow and ice, me and a poorly lit flashlight.
Now if you have never dressed for the outdoors in a Hoosier winter, it involves layers. Lots of them! There was a meteorologist, Bob Gregory, we used to watch for the forecast. He had a commercial that showed a child with so many layers on, that his arms extended straight out and he struggled to walk.
I wasn't that bad, but close. Often we would get snow suits for Christmas that would make working in the cold easier.
I began to head into the woods.
With several hills and hollers on the farm, where would I look?
I started following the fence line as it went deeper into forest. I knew the fence line well. It was often my job after a storm to walk the fence to look for branches that may have fallen on the fence, or breaks, where sometimes hunters illegally trespassing would enter.
I continued to call, hoping she would respond. Finally in a small clearing, there she, and her new calf were.
The coarse hair on the calf had already frozen. The smell of a new birth was everywhere. The calf was alive, but cold.
I don't remember exactly what I told the momma. Probably something about being stupid and what was she thinking?
I was always small for my age, and the calf was half as big as me. There was no way I could carry the calf, and he would freeze to death by the time I had gone back down the hill to get help.
So I began to pull at the calf. The uneasiness of the Momma could be sensed, but I realized I had to get the calf to the barn.
I swear, it seemed to take everything I had to get the calf going.
At one point, I just rememeber stopping and starting to cry. Why did she have this calf so far from the barn? Why on this night? I feared for the calf, but also for myself. I had a stepfather who was often unkind, and his punishments could be harsh. I thought that somehow this was all my fault. I should have known that something was up with this one cow earlier in the day and should have kept a closer eye on her.
It felt like hours by the time I reached the barn lot with the calf. The security light shone in the front yard. I don't remember ever being so happy getting down that hill.
I was exhausted. As I entered with the calf, the rest of the herd had to smell and meet the newborn.
Putting out more hay, and getting them settled, I just remember sitting down in the stall as well and looking up at the lone lighbulb hanging above and thinking, "I can't believe just what happened."
Over the years I have remembered that experience at Christmastime. I remember that old barn, how it felt, the smells, noises and then I think of Mary giving birth in a place such as that.
The stark reality that she was not going to be in a place prepared for her birth. In a dark and different land. The questions she must have raised, "Why now?" and "Why here?"
She began her pregnancy with a song, magnifying God, and now she is in a much different place.
God's timing and presence is both surprising and perfect. The creche designed to feed the animals of the field, became the gift to humanity as it became the place where our Savior was placed.
In unexpected ways, Christ enters the world, and reminds us that the love that God has for us means that God is willing to go anywhere to meet each of us where we are.
Stay in God's grip!
G. Todd Williams (c) 2018
Rev. G. Todd Williams lives in the Houston metro area and is a Hospice Chaplain and ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor.