Mary, Did You Itch?
Blog post 12/10/2018
I’m allergic to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favorite Holiday, but I’m pretty sure I’m allergic to it. I’ve been itching a lot lately (which has to do with the cancer and step-down of the steroids), but there are always allergies for me to deal with – especially around Christmas time. Evergreen trees are more like “ever-sneeze”, and a Living Nativity always sends me over the allergy edge.
My first pony ride, as a toddler, sent me to the hospital with asthma and allergies. I can’t be around horses, donkeys, camels or sheep without breathing issues and hives and itching – to this very day. And if I had to sit in or around hay? Severe reactions. Sometimes, just looking at a “realistic” creche’ can make me sneeze and start itching. I’ve dealt with allergies all through my life, and I’ve learned the more you are around the allergen, if you build up the exposure to it, or gradually increase the dose with shots, your body should develop a tolerance to the allergy. For example, I’ve been a “dog mom” for many years, so I’m comfortable around most breeds. Cats, however, trigger bad allergic reactions for me. This must be the reason BOTH of my adult children have cats – hmm……
My latest adventure in cholangiocarcinoma involves a head-to-toe, non-stop itch. Pruritis. My liver and bile ducts are doing the best they can right now, but bile salts and other issues have taken the forefront with this non-stop itch. The last time I had an intensive itch (and rash, which I don’t have now) was during my last 3 weeks of pregnancy with my first-born, Ashley. That itch has a name – PUPPPs – or Pruritic Urticarial Papules and Plaques of Pregnancy. It immediately ceases when the baby is born. I remember, it felt like a miracle when it disappeared. Now, with this latest “plague”, I wake several times in the night, scratching.
Last night, I had the STRANGEST dream I’ve had in a while. I dreamed I was trapped in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by donkeys, horses, cows, sheep and stinky shepherds. I was itching and scratching. One shepherd told me I’d have to wait. The wise men were bringing cream of frankincense and myrrh, but they got lost not using Waze. I woke up thinking if I could just give birth, the itch would go away. It’s eight hours later, as I’m writing this. I’m still itching, but the GOOD NEWS is I didn’t end up with a baby to diaper and swaddle this morning! The dream was that real.
Since I’m already itching (and you probably are, too, just reading this…), let’s look at a manger scene, a typical nativity creche’ in it’s glorified, white-washed plasticity. We see sheep, a shepherd or two, some cows, the tired donkey, Joseph standing in the back, Mary kneeling beside the baby Jesus lying in the center-stage manger with camels and wise men/kings off to one side. There is usually a lit star on the peak of the barn roof, and maybe an angel or two hovering above. This is how we glorify and simplify the reality of God’s human entry to Earth.
So, let’s get real. There was most definitely a stench, and maybe allergic reactions in that real nativity scene. It could NOT have been a Silent Night. Animal noises and poop smells were certainly in the air. Mary, exhausted from a late-term pregnancy, long distance donkey ride AND “natural” childbirth, tries to sleep and is awakened by shepherds and sheep, like night-shift nurses in the hospital who wake you during the night. Angel noises might sound like the din of the visiting family behind the curtain in your semi-private hospital room. You drift back to sleep and the baby wakes and cries to be fed. Or changed. Or held. Do you Hear what I Hear? That music therapist Drummer Boy is next door and you know you’re next… and could someone, ANYONE, please turn off the light from that blasted Star?!
”Mary, Did You Know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you”?* Mary, did you know? Mary, did you hurt? Mary, did you worry? Mary, did you cry and scream? Mary, did you ITCH?!
I think some of us have an allergic reaction to Christmas because we expect perfection. Perfection in the buying and wrapping of gifts and the decorations of our homes. We expect perfection in the behavior of imperfect extended or retracted family togetherness. We expect perfection in the busy-ness of parties, musical events and church services. We expect perfection in the planning and execution of our over-scheduled, end-of-year calendars. I bet Mary had to deal with a lot of this, as well.
Maybe this year we should embrace the Christmas REALITY – the labor pains of Hope, the endurance of Pain, the discomfort of Grief, the smell of Humanity, the itch of a promised Salvation.
It’s ok to scratch that itch – maybe the Wise Men will finally get here with the cream.
*”Mary, Did You Know”? lyrics ©Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Capitol Christian Music Group. Songwriters, Buddy Greene and Mark Lowry