The stars in the heavens
Looked down where He lay,
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay.
When it comes to the Christmas story I proudly admit to having far more shepherd in me than wise man. It’s because of that I can so clearly imagine the setting of Jesus’ birth. I can feel the cold in the air. I can smell the hay. I can hear the animals stirring around the baby.
I was in my early teens when my great-grandfather became ill and was struggling to keep up with some of the chores around the farm. We were in the latter part of a brutal Ohio winter. One of the ewes fell ill and refused to nurse her newborn lamb. I knew my great-grandfather. He would have ignored his own health for that of the lamb – he had quite a bit of shepherd in him as well – so I volunteered to bottle feed the lamb every four hours until the mother decided to take the job back, which to my recollection she never did.
I remember the first 2am feeding. The alarm clock went off and I rolled out of bed wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. I stumbled into the kitchen and mixed together a bottle of powdered milk and water. Then I stacked as many layers of clothing on my body as I could without collapsing beneath the weight of them. I opened the door that led from the laundry room into the garage and pushed the lighted button on the wall that started the garage door on a slow and stubborn climb. With little more than a crack revealed, the night air rushed in under the door and took hold of me, challenging every bit of my desire to care for that lamb. To be honest, at that moment, I could have abandoned the lamb. My great-grandfather on the other hand…
I began the hundred yard walk from our house across the street to the barn. When I got to the stall door I had to remove fresh snow from in front of it to allow the door to open. I remember that first night neither the mama nor the baby lamb cared much for my presence. The ewe wanted to protect her baby; the baby wanted to eat and at the time had no idea that’s what I was there for. I got hold of the baby, all 3 or 4 pounds of her, and wrestled her next to me in a corner. It took several attempts at shoving the nipple of that bottle into her mouth and force feeding her samples of the milk before she realized for all reasons important to her I was her new mama. I know little one, this is a bit awkward for both of us, but let’s make the most of it.
I never had to wrestle that lamb again. On every visit after that first night she greeted me like I greet the Dominos delivery man on Friday nights when he arrives at our door carrying a stack of pizzas and hot wings – with a grin and a wagging tail.
It was the late night visits over the next couple of weeks that I remember so clearly, when that lamb and I would curl up in the cold still of the night. The best friends either of us had at the hour. It’s funny about the memory, you lose sight of so many things, but visions of long nights sitting on the floor of a stall of a barn come back even clearer with time. When I hear today’s song, I invariably picture those nights. I feel them. And I live in amazement at how many beautiful gifts God gives us along the way that we don’t get to open until many years later.