I stepped in it. Just before getting into bed on the night before Christmas eve, I stepped in it. It felt cool on my foot, and slimy—definitely slimy. It squished up between my toes. And it was sticky—it took several minutes under the bathtub tap with soap to get it all off…and then I had to work to get it off the soap bar as well. The cat had left her gift of hairball right in the middle of the rug on my side of the bed, precisely placed to be found as I set my foot with my full weight to launch onto the high four-poster. Merry Christmas.
So, what does this little bit of personal news have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing…except that it happened at Christmas. And, it had to do with an animal. There were animals in the stable at Bethlehem the night Jesus was born, right? What manner of gifts did those beasts leave for the newborn King? And who might have stepped in them?
It wrecked my little temporary illusion of the perfect Christmas, but the fact is, Christmas was never perfect. Jesus should have been born to a virgin in a nice warm, dry, modern hospital (with sparkling clean floors!) with all the latest technology there to assure his perfect health, right? But, there was no hospital and there was no room in the inn, and Jesus was born in a stable, presumably without displacing the residents, who continued to do what needed to be done, leaving, er, gifts, here and there, now and then.
There was no anesthesia. Possibly there was a midwife, though none is mentioned. There might have been a fire nearby, but in the stable itself? Maybe there was time to clean the stable, but who washes down stalls with disinfectant or bleach? Nobody, not now; certainly not then. There were no disposable diapers, though it’s safe to assume that the swaddling clothes were clean. The birth of Jesus occurred in a place where conflict and poverty were rules, not exceptions. There were bad people and good people. Mary and Joseph were not in what we would call a normal marriage, and it’s unwise for us to think that Jesus’ divine patrimony solved all the problems of that alternative relationship. People surely smirked and whispered and assumed the worst. When Jesus stepped into this world, he might have wondered just what all he’d stepped in. Whatever it was, it wasn’t perfect, and not altogether pleasant.
So, thank you, Maisey the cat, for leaving a present at my bedside to remind me that Jesus comes into the world and loves it—embraces it—just the way it is, hairballs and all. Merry Christmas.
Apt reflection! You may be pleased to know that I once presented at a conference a theology paper entitled “The Hairball We Cannot Swallow: Religious Readings of ‘Feeling Dirty’ in Victimization.”
But clearly I don’t dwell with a cat, for a more proper title might have been “The Hairball We Cannot Cough Up” . . .