Starbucks launched its wall-to-wall Christmas music playlist three weeks before Thanksgiving. President Trump invited a group of Catholic nuns in full habit to sing at the lighting of the White House Christmas, not “holiday,” tree, two years after campaigning specifically on encouraging Americans to wish one another a “merry Christmas” again. Secular leftists continue to wage their war on Christmas, but Christmas is winning.
This welcome change should not lull cultural conservatives into a complacent and false sense of victory but rather call their attention to a more insidious and widespread winter struggle: the war on Advent. Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent, the penitential period leading up to Christmas during which Christians contemplate the mysteries of death, judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The term “advent” derives from the Latin word meaning “to come.” This solemn season asks us to consider what is to come, in this world and beyond—a crucial charge not merely for Christmas but for us all.
A revanchist Right rightly celebrates the newly recovered winter primacy of Santa and Frosty and even the Baby Jesus over the Left’s socialist pseudo-holidays and bland euphemisms, but our decadent culture tempts even many conservatives to ignore or deny the four mysteries of Advent. Techno-utopians in Silicon Valley, like so many deluded fools before them, promise a desperate culture terrified of mortality that the cure for death is nearly at hand. Over-credentialed, under-educated cultural elites deny an objective moral standard while incoherently encouraging their countrymen to behave. Popular musicians insist, “Heaven is a place on earth,” and wishful-thinkers, atheist and religious alike, deny the possibility of punishment for our transgressions.
The neglect of these mysteries has wreaked havoc on our society. Fear of death and idolatry of youth have prompted vain neurotics to spend ever-greater fortunes on cosmetic products and surgeries to stave off age just a little while longer. The denial of judgment has debased our ethical discourse to the titillating, albeit indefensible, maxim, “If it feels good, do it.” Loss of hope in Heaven has spread despair throughout a culture that over the past two years, for the first time in a half century, has seen its average life expectancy decline, owing largely to a surge in drug addiction and suicide. Disbelief in the consequences of wrongdoing has coarsened our society and alienated us one from another.
For Christians, Advent reminds us why we need Christmas in the first place. It relies not only the grace of God but also the assent of Mary to the divine will. For non-Christians too these mysteries, which man has contemplated since we lived in caves, explain the meaning, consequences, and demands of human liberty. To skip the mysteries is to miss the celebration.