Politics & Policy

Christmas in an Age of Existential Crisis

(Leo Malsam/Dreamstime)

We live in an odd time. On the one hand, our cultural aristocrats are giddy at the decline in American faith. They celebrate each new study showing that “nones” — those without a religious affiliation — are on the rise, as if the loss of faith means the opening of the heart. The age of tolerance is upon us, they say: America is breaking the shackles of the past, and Americans are free to indulge their every physical whim. It’s a great time to be alive.

But then there are other studies that no one is celebrating. If it’s a great time to be alive, why are so many choosing to die? Suicide rates are rising “sharply.” Opioid overdoses have hit “record highs.” And yesterday the Washington Post reported that “Americans are drinking themselves to death at record rates.” Among white Americans, self-inflicted death rates are so high that they’ve counteracted the long-term benefits of extraordinary advances in medical science. And for every American who consciously commits suicide — or who is so indifferent to his body’s fate that he feeds it vast amounts of drugs and alcohol — there are dozens more who feel like death, lost in the haze of depression.

The causes of this societal malaise are extraordinarily complex. Families are breaking apart, incomes are declining, long-term joblessness is crushing good souls, and we’re dealing with all of it while “bowling alone” as community life collapses.

Anyone who points to any one policy or political ideology as the culprit betrays their own simplicity. For millions of Americans, the world of policy is indescribably remote, while the shock of infidelity or family strife or the loss of a business is painfully familiar. But no government plan or policy can fix those personal miseries. The government can’t guarantee family harmony or professional success. Indeed, bureaucrats often do more harm the more intrusive and “well-meaning” they become.

But while we can’t identify a single culprit, we can identify a single solution in the person of Jesus Christ, whose Advent season is upon us. The true tragedy of America’s loss of faith is a separation from the source of our life and hope. It’s too trite to say that Jesus makes life easy. After all, He’s the one who demands that we “take up our cross” to follow Him. Jesus doesn’t give jobs, grant earthly glory, or guarantee harmony in your family. He’s not Santa.

The hope of Christ isn’t found merely in the fact of His existence but in the imitation of His life.

But He does give us eternal hope, extraordinary purpose, and exceptional strength. The hope of Christ isn’t found merely in the fact of His existence but in the imitation of His life. He demonstrated humility we can’t comprehend, came to Earth to serve rather than reign, and provided the eternal model of selfless sacrifice when He substituted His life for ours on the cross.

That hope is all around us, if we only look. I saw it in the eyes of a friend as he confronted terminal cancer with dignity and courage. I’ve seen it in another friend who at long last lifted his eyes heavenward to escape the iron grip of addiction. It lives on in my brothers-in-arms, who stand over the grave of a fallen comrade and speak secure in the knowledge that they’ll see him again.

#share#Make no mistake — Christmas is fun. It should be enjoyed. My family mixes the sacred and secular in a Christmas Eve ritual that includes both our church’s candlelight service and a late-night viewing of Elf. But it’s fun not because of Santa or elves or presents. It’s fun because it represents the joy inherent in one of my favorite scriptures — from the book of Isaiah:

Arise, shine, for your light has come,

    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,

    and thick darkness the peoples;

but the Lord will arise upon you,

    and his glory will be seen upon you.

And nations shall come to your light,

    and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Thick darkness is indeed upon our people, but the light blazes forth. It will never be extinguished. Merry Christmas, readers. May the Lord bless you this day and every day.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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