I milked a sow on Christmas night and her white ran warm.
It was after the packages for the neighbors were wrapped up and walked over across the snowy fields.
After the baking and the eating and the gathering and the candles and the singing and the Scripture and the praying.
After the feast for the coming of our Salvation.
After the last of the relatives slipped home in the dark, we wandered out in the snowy dark —
looking up at the stars over a barn.
It quiet in a barn on Christmas night.
The world feels far away. Sows grunt, piglets root and nuzzle udders for milky warm, and snow falls soundlessly out there in the dark.
I fill feed troughs.
I fill the sows’ troughs and this is what they laid him in. Laid God in skin down in a feed trough. These were the first sounds of earth that reverberated in His ear drums? From the lofty, soaring arias of the heavenly host to this? This snorting of beasts, this banging of feed troughs? Us all so hungry.
“What you smiling about?” The Farmer grins at me.
“The smell.” His eyebrows arch. I laugh. “It smells like —- home.” I wink. It is — this scent. This is us, who we all are. And from the incense of the celestial heights to this air hanging thick with dung’s rank — He came to this.
God comes to the edges.
He intimately knows the muck of my lives, the stench I try to mask.
And this is the thing: He chooses my dirty places, the places that shame me, as His point of entry. The lights celebrating the birth of the Christ Child — God with us — they’re still flickering as we look into the New Year — a new us.
Slopping hogs on Christmas night, I feel this happy relief: The New Year only has hope because Christmas happened out in a dung heap.
Last of the sows fed, the Farmer says there’s one more thing.
Just check for milk before we turn out the last of the lights. Check the udders of the next sows due to give birth, see if they have any milk. Make sure if any sows have milk, a sign they are close to giving birth, we get them into the warmth of the birthing rooms.
He finds a sow out in the gestating room dripping white milk.
She’ll need to be moved into the birth barn.
“Check the sows in room 3, the ones that don’t have any litters yet?” He calls it to me from the other end of the barn. “Any of them have milk?”
I find 4 sows that haven’t given birth yet.
I rub their full, ruddy udders. Sweet whiteness sticks between my fingers. I smile back at him from the door. “Only every single one of them have milk.”
The barn’s right full. And on Christmas night there’s one round and heavy with hope and she needs a place to give birth.
“Well.” The Farmer smiles. He pulls at the peak of his farm cap. “I guess we’ll just have to make room for her somewhere?”
We wander through the barn and move a few pigs this way and we move a few pigs that way, a sow over here and a sow there.
We make room at the inn.
It takes an hour or more and it’s late when we’ve made space and she sways heavy into the birthing barn.
Something always comes to fill the empty spaces.
We turn out the last of the barn lights on Christmas night. The snow’s heavy in the yard. Our feet make tracks.
“Mama?” Shalom walks beside me, holding my hand. “Will tomorrow be Christmas too?”
I know that feeling. Not wanting any of this wonder to wander away — or me from it.
“Well, I’m thinking… ” I stop, look out across the fields and the white and the stars. “I’m thinking that it’s Christmas now forever.”
Her laughter rings all around us.
“Yes, Mama, yes!” She spins around in snow, in the halo of the barn light, us all under stars.
“It is Christmas forever now — because Christ is always with us.”
We hang our coats outside the mudroom.
And in front of our fire and our tree, the figurine of Mary swollen with hope on that donkey, she’s arrived at her deliverance and they make room for her out in the barn.
We sit with her and Christmas and let the candles linger on.
This milky white light shimmering everywhere, feeding us a forever hope in the dark…