Suzanne Bossert

A Tender Fontanel

December is the one month of the year when the flow of time feels very, very pronounced. It’s as if Christmas day is an imploded star, pulling all other days towards it with an irresistible energy force...

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December is the one month of the year when the flow of time feels very, very pronounced. It’s as if Christmas day is an imploded star, pulling all other days towards it with an irresistible energy force. This force can feel as overwhelming as a rip tide, especially now that the American consumption machine—our voracious capitalist retail system—has merged (kidnapped?) the religious holiday. These days the run-up to Christmas can feel like a Dorothy-style tornado, but instead of Antie Em, ToTo, the Bad Witch, and Oz all swirling together, we have Santa, Rudolph, Elf on a Shelf, Amazon, Best Buy, wonder, joy, stress, overspending, overeating, twinkling lights, goodwill, and mobs at malls.

 Christmas is a minefield of paradoxes.  While this holiday is enshrined in our dominant cultural as the ‘most wonderful time of the year,’ it is also the most awful time of the year if your life fails to resemble the hallowed Hallmark version. If death has snatched away loved ones, or if ill health or relationship struggles or low funds in your bank account mean you can’t really play the Christmas game properly, then bah humbug on you! The mandate to be happy is immense: travel long miles to gather with family around groaning tables of home-cooked food, haul home a big tree to decorate, bake cookies . . . and tip the mailman, hairdresser, newspaper delivery guy, cleaners, school crossing guard. Don’t forget teachers, neighbors, the needy….stuff the Sally Army red kettle, the offertory plate at church, the envelopes of mailed appeals from every charity you’ve ever supported. Rush, rush, rush, or the opposite: wander aimlessly though Netflix at night with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, willing the clock to tick its way faster out of December because presently, for myriad reasons, you are all alone for the holidays this year.

 The imploded star pulls on us to go fast, faster.

Many of us have fought the crazed Noel tornado this month by turning to the Christian liturgical calendar, which offers the season of practiced waiting, Advent. Underneath our culture’s shrieking Mazak version of Christmas, Advent is like a strong secret bass chord struck from an old instrument, reverberating richly underfoot.

Advent is a palate-cleansing tartness among so much sugar.  

Of course, Advent isn’t for everyone. So sometimes it gets reduced to a cheerful, motherly bromide: oh please just slow down a little, darlings. Namaste!  But if you go a little deeper, Advent gets strange: 

  • MAKE SPACE, you. Not just by decluttering your shelves in preparation for a flood of parcels delivered by brown UPS trucks, but make space for the sacred.
  • WAIT, you. Not just for those impossible parking spaces at the infernal maelstrom of a mall, but for irrepressible Mystery. 

 Advent (adventus) meanscoming’, and it’s the Holy Spirit who is arriving, always arriving. And that’s the strangest thing of all about Advent: time becomes elastic. In the lectionary, the commencement of Advent abruptly tears us away from an adult Jesus, forcing us to wildly jump backwards to wait innocently for Christ the baby to be born. Whaat? Why pretend to wait for something that has already happened? Why pretend to re-enact it live instead of just remembering it fondly?  Why is it “O Come all ye Faithful” not “The Faithful came to Bethlehem.”

 In the swirl of Advent, the Past and Future are dropped off at our homes as if Advent was an airport taxi bringing relatives home for Christmas.  Stepping onto our front steps, laughing and singing, Past and Future come weighed down with both baggage and gifts. Of course, the Past is always tired and needing help with heavy bags (she seems incapable of packing light) while her sister, the Future, is usually restless and wanting to be the center of attention, regaling all with tales of possibilities or dire predictions. The Christian experience of Christmas insists that you welcome both, integrating what has happened and what will happen, with what… Emmanuel was born a long time ago, will be born again this Christmas, and will be born yet again in all the Decembers to come. Was/is/will be. God entered time, enters time, will enter time. As a BABY! Another time distortion: why enter as a newborn?

The incarnation leads us to the unimaginable conclusion that God insists on coming to us as both ultimate reality and unripened potential. The fruit is in the seed: the world-changing Messiah is in the manger. Geez, what a twist. I mean, we are used to this plot, but it’s just really, really shocking. And man, if you need a savior, like right now, isn’t it hard to get behind God as an infant? For that matter, a Messiah on a cross doesn’t seem much more helpful.

Christmas teaches us that God intersects time completely–past, present, and future because God is always here… save us, to be with us……..not as a king or a magician or warrior, but, as unending Love draped in the soft skin of vulnerability. How terrifying. No wonder we so often anesthetize ourselves by stepping willingly into the vortex of frenetic season of buying and consuming.

 Through time and space, Christmas eternally asks us to be brave enough to align ourselves with a Baby, facing the horrors of a broken world with our mortality unshielded—our faith but a tender fontanel stretching thinly over our vulnerable hearts. If we can accept this naked exposure, this defenselessness, then we can glimpse what it means to be fully human, fully alive. In the midst of the whirlwind of garish glitter and sugarplum glee, it is the greatest gift of all. 

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