Several years ago, I found this story on a preacher sermon email list in a sermon written by Jody Felton. I adapted it for my Christmas Even sermon that year. The Entertainer (at age 8) thought it was a perfect Christmas Eve story.
When we moved to another church, she told me I should preach the goat lady sermon on Christmas Eve. After I told her she would be gone to her dad’s, she told me to wait and preach it the next year. So I’ve already told it at my current church and I share it, like it was shared with me, for anyone else who is looking for a great Christmas story.
“I am reminded of a true story I once read. It was written by a man who grew up in the woods of Minnesota during the Depression. His father was mentally ill, a shameful thing in those days, a thing to be hidden behind closed doors.
When his father was relatively well, life was not too bad for the family. But when “the darkness” as his father called it, descended, he became moody and violent. The father was terrified of “the darkness”, both the darkness outside himself and the darkness within that tormented him so.
The only things that eased his torment were light and the potion brought by the Goat Lady. Some considered the Goat Lady a witch. She lived alone with her goats and had a knack for discerning when others were in pain. Somehow, the Goat Lady always knew when “the darkness”descended on the author’s father. She would arrive at their doorstep with a pail of goat’s milk sweetened with a little Karo syrup and laced with herbs known only to herself. Whatever was in the milk always calmed his father, eased his fears, and reduced his violent episodes.
The author especially remembers the Christmas Eve when he was nine years old. That year, it began snowing a few days before Christmas. As the days got shorter, the snow got deeper. The darkness grew both outside and within his father.
Because of the snow, the author’s mother had been unable to go out to buy more kerosene for their lamps. By late afternoon on Christmas Eve, they only had one lamp left and the fuel in it was about gone. The father begged his wife to not let the lamp go out. She had to find more kerosene. If the lamp went out, the darkness would destroy him.
The family’s only connection with the outside world in that fierce snowstorm was the party line they shared with 17 other families. By ringing the right number of longs and shorts, one could reach other members of the party line. Of course, you usually got the rest of the party line, too, as they listened in on the conversation.
Reluctantly, the mother finally gave in to her husband’s pleading She called a neighbor and asked if he had any extra kerosene he could lend them. As it turned out, he had extra, but because of the ferocious snowstorm, he didn’t know ow he could get it to them.
A little later, the author was sitting staring out the window into the darkness and the snowstorm. He dreaded the moment when kerosene would run out and his father would lose the battle with his own darkness.
Suddenly, he saw a light coming toward the house. He could just make out the Goat Lady carrying a pail of goat’s milk in one hand and waving her other arm, as if to push back the storm.
Then the miracle happened. It was as if she really had pushed back the storm. The clouds parted, a full moon shone on the freshly fallen snow, and the stars twinkled like diamonds.
That was not all he saw. Coming through the woods from 17 different directions were more lights…the lanterns of their neighbors on the party line. The little house was soon filled with people and light. Not a single corner was left in the shadows.
Christmas cookies appeared out of nowhere accompanied by hot coffee. Fellowship and laughter rang out. Even his father’s own personal darkness was dispelled by the light-bearers and the Goat Lady’s pail of milk.
Before they left, someone brought in the family’s kerosene barrel. Each one poured the kerosene from their lantern into the barrel, saving just enough to light their way home.
As the neighbors left, the boy once again sat at the window and watched as the lanterns went off in 17 different directions like the rays of a brilliant star. The light-bearers had done their work.”
The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.