The Gift of Life

The Gift Of Life

Luke 1:46b-55

The Word Of God

May the Lord as His Wisdom and Understanding

To Our Interpretation of His Word Today

We have been the recipients of the most incredible gift.  It is what our scriptures are telling us this morning.  They come from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1, verses 46b to 55, and it is Mary’s Magnificat.

We’ll take a quick look at the scriptures.  They are part of the Jesus birth story.  The Gospel of Luke is the only one of the four gospels containing an expanded birth story.  The Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist entering into civilization from his hermitage in the desert, and calling people to repent of their sins to prepare the way for God.  The Gospel of Matthew starts with Jesus’ genealogy and the angel visiting Joseph to tell him to marry the woman Mary, and the visit of the Wise Men. The birth is almost secondary.  The Gospel of John begins with the 18 verse overview telling us that Jesus has been present since the beginning of time, and transitions into John the Baptist preparing the way.

The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, puts significant emphasis on the birth of Jesus.  We are told the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the people who would become the parents of John the Baptist, and how Zechariah is visited by the angel Gabriel while he is in the Holy of Holies performing the annual sacrifice for the people of Israel. Zechariah is told he and Elizabeth will have a son.  Zechariah expresses his doubt because he and his wife are to old to have children.  Because of his doubt Gabriel strikes Zechariah dumb and he does not speak until John is born.

Next Gabriel goes to Nazareth in Galilee and visits the young girl Mary and tells her she will give birth to the Son of God.  She is to call her son Jesus.  Jesus will reign as the descendant of David and his kingdom will never end.  And Mary accepts her destiny as a humble servant of the Lord.

Mary travels to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  We are told when Mary comes into Elizabeth’s house the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth tells Mary she is blessed among women and praises her because God has chosen her from among all women to bear God’s son.

Next we have this mornings scripture, often called Mary’s Song or Magnificat (the meaning in Latin is “my soul magnifies the Lord”).  It is Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s praise.

In her song Mary is thanking God for the gift which God has given to her.  Through her God’s Glory will be revealed to the world.  Because this event is to happen through her, a person of such humble state she truly is blessed by God.  Her song changes from her personal thanks to reminding us that God’s mercy goes out to all, and is there for all people, for all time.  Next she tells about the mighty deeds God performs such as managing the rulers of nations, and humbling the proud and rich who take advantage of those less privileged and powerful.  Finally she comes full circle, back to the people of humble origins: the poor, the downtrodden and oppressed.  She tells how God will be merciful, keeping the promises made to Abraham and his descendants.

The gift which God gave to Mary turns out for us to be the gift of life.  A gift of life that will fulfill the prophecy of the Hebrew scriptures, and will literally change the world for all people, for the next 2,000 years. 

The Gift of Life.  What an incredible gift and for the next few minutes what I’d like you to think about how this gift has impacted your life and the lives of others.  And while you do that, let me tell you a story.

I spoke with my brother Joe the other day and it has been wet, gloomy and cold back in northwest Iowa where my family lives out there on the farm.  That kind of weather means all the livestock yards have turned into a sea of mud, and last week they received about a foot snow.   Now there is snow over mud and it is just miserable if they have to do their outside chores.

That’s a very different December weather from what I remember from my days on the farm.  I remember subzero temperatures, and a couple of feet of snow which usually arrived in November and stayed until March.  Joe reminded me that those were good days to sit next to the wood burning stove, look out the window at the snow, and appreciate a good cup of hot coffee.  There is not as much snow this year and it is not as cold but it started us talking about the past when we were growing up on the farm.  And this led us to remembering an incredible gift we received, or were reminded of, one cold December morning just before Christmas.

It was about 50 years ago.  When we stepped outside well before sunup to start the first round of chores the cold was like a physical barrier.   But it was light outside.  There was the porch light over the back door, and we could see to go down the steps, but this light was different.  The whole farmstead stretched out in front of us bathed in this soft silver glow with the light from the stars reflecting off the snow.  The snow squeaked as we walked toward the barn and cattle yards.

The first round of chores were practical.  The water tanks for the stock had about 4 inches of ice covering them.  Opening the water tanks meant breaking the ice and starting the wood tank heaters in the west barnyard and center yard tanks.  Joe, used an axe to break the ice.  I carried bushel baskets of corncobs and dumped them into the tank heaters.  The heaters were an iron combustion chamber about 4 feet long, two feet wide and a foot and a half thick.  There was a neck for feeding in the fuel and a chimney at the far end for letting the smoke out. The heaters sat on the bottom of the tank, weighed down with cement blocks and rocks.  They worked so well and generated so much heat once you had a roaring fire going the water would begin to steam.

With the tank heaters roaring away the show cattle began to drift out of the barn’s south shed and wander across the lot for water.

The barn was the next stop where I opened up the east door and let the nursing cows inside.  We always had six or eight cows with young calves we kept in the barn during the winter, and the cows obediently walked past the milking stalls and Joe turned them into the box stalls where their calves waited very impatiently.

This early round of chores finally done it was time for Joe and I to go back to the house for a quick warm up.  As we went past the shop we started the tractor so it had time to heat up the hydraulic oil needed to run the silage wagon (silage is the corn stalk and ear of corn and is used for cattle feed).

The second round of chores started with first light and consisted of Joe taking the tractor and silage wagon to the hill lot where the feeder cattle waited at the drive along cement feed bunk for their morning silage.  Meanwhile I went to the barn, turned the show cattle into the north barn, fed them, and tied them into their stalls.  Next I climbed into the hayloft and threw down 25 bales of hay into the south loft, and eventually out the southeast loft door to the cows. 

I dropped down to the main floor and as quickly as possible I was out east door because 150 cows clamoring over 25 bales of hay is a frightening thing.  By the time I had carried four or six bales away from the barn, and scattered them in the snow Joe had returned to help me carry out and scatter the rest of the hay.

The sun was coming up and the cows were all grouped around the scattered hay.  Joe and I walked through the cows just checking things.

These were registered cows, most had been show cattle at some point in time, and so were quiet and used to people being around themIn fact we often had to shove them out of the way.  Our job was to check and make sure they were all healthy and spot a specific few cows we knew were close to giving birth.

We identified the ones we knew would be having calves in the next two weeks, and then Joe saw a two year old red heifer.  He called me over, and I agreed she had calved, but according to our records was not due for another month.

She had pushed her way into a group of cows and was inhaling mouthfuls of hay, while trying to watch Joe and me at the same time.  We walked out to the edge of the feeding cows and searched the area along the north windbreak looking for a calf.  Joe, looking up over the cowherd to the cattle yard,  spotted the dark spot in snow on the hillside toward the windmill.

We started up the hill toward the dark spot, and when the red heifer saw us walking up the hillside she left the other cows and trotted uphill toward the same spot.

She reached her calf before we did, and stood over it daring us to come closer.  We stopped just outside of her intimidation area.  A normal calf would have been curled up, lying upright, legs tucked under it.  This calf was lying on it side, legs stretched out on the ground, head thrown back.

We moved forward carefully, being sure to keep the calf between us and the heifer, because a cow will not trample her calf to attack an intruder.  I felt the calf.  The hair was frozen, and the legs felt like icicles.  But underneath the front leg, up against the chest, I could feel a faint heart beat.

I motioned to Joe, who backed away from me and started to move out around the cow.  She tried to watch both of us.  I gently picked up the calf, which weighed about 60 pounds, and held it out toward the heifer.  She snorted at me and shook her head, but stepped forward and smelled her calf.

Very slowly I backed away, keeping the calf extended toward the heifer, I began to back down the hill toward the barn.  Joe brought up the rear turning the heifer back toward me every time she tried to return to the spot where her calf had been, and I would stop and let her run forward and sniff the cold still calf I held out to her.

We slowly made our way to the barn.  Joe opened the door and I backed through, the heifer following, through the center barn and into a box stall.  Joe closed us in the pen, then went around to the main aisle between the south shed and the center barn, and let me out with the calf, leaving the heifer in the box stall.  The heifer immediately went crazy circling the stall looking frantically for her calf, but by this time Joe and I were out of the barn and on our way to the house carrying the cold calf.

As we walked in through the back door into the boot room my dad stared at us.  What were we doing with a dead calf in the house.  Mom ignored him and found an old quilt which she lay on the floor beside the pot-bellied stove.

I lay the calf on the quilt and taking some old towels, began to dry the calf as the hair unfroze.  Joe went to our veterinarian supplies and got a bottle of plasma, a long drip tube and a long needle.  We ran a pint of plasma directly into the calf’s stomach.    Mom got a package for colostrum (milk given by the cow during the first three days after calving…it is extra rich with nutrients kept some in the freezer for just this kind of situation) and began to it thaw on the stove.  When I finished drying the calf got a coke bottle and lamb’s nipple (small soft nipple for feeding baby lambs…cattle nipples are to big and hard for small calves to nurse).

When the milk was warm to the touch we filled the coke bottle and I tried to feed the calf.   I rolled it up on its stomach, tucking its legs under it.  I held the calf’s mouth, pushed the nipple into its mouth and gently squeezed its mouth a couple of time.  The milk ran into its mouth and dribbled out onto the quilt. 

I let the calf loose and it fell back on its side, legs extended and head back.  We covered it with a sheet, and then covered the sheet with the electric blanket from my bed….the only rooms in the house that were heated were the kitchen and living/dining room and bathroom, so we there were plenty of electric blankets.

A couple of hours later the calf still lay on its side, but the legs had regained some warmth and we tried the milk again.  This time when I squeezed the calf’s jaws and the milk ran into its mouth the calf swallowed, but still did not want to suck.  But we kept squeezing and it kept swallowing until we managed to get about a cup of milk into the calf.  It dropped back flat on it’s side when I quit holding it upright.

A couple of hours later we tried again, and this time the calf nursed on the lamb’s nipple and drank the entire bottle.  When I stood up, it remained lying upright, legs tucked underneath, head wrapped around the body, eyes open watching everything, and lyng perfectly still like all baby calves do.

The evening bottle was the same.   The calf seemed to be getting used to its surroundings.  Still it did not move.

That night I slept on the couch in the living room and set an alarm for a midnight feeding.

Before the alarm went off I was I was awakened by something jamming against the couch.  I opened my eyes to find myself staring into the muzzle of the little calf, its tongue reaching out toward me, searching for the milk it had come to associate with my smell.

That morning it left the kitchen and returned to barn and a very grateful mother.

Every so often we come face to face with life, that essence which is in all of us, and is that vital core which God instilled in all of his creation.  Many of us have held a new born baby, small and delicate, and we have appreciated the wonder and miracle which is life.

I remember holding that baby calf, nearly frozen and only moments away from its spark fading away.  When we see one of God’s creatures fight to keep that essence alive, and we can have even a small part in that battle, we appreciate that gift even more. 

The gift of life is what we received 2000 years ago in a small village, in an occupied land, on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, when God came to dwell among His people.  That gift, His Son Jesus, which God gave us that day, eventually lead us to forgiveness and salvation and life eternal for all his believers. 

The most precious gift of all, the gift of life.  Let us pray.