Forget the War on Christmas. The real battle raging out there is the War on Advent. Rather than beginning a season of prayful preparation for the Lord's coming, the commercial world would have us believe we are already over a month into an early, raucous Christmas feast. An inverted White Witch has cast a spell: Always Christmas and never winter. But there is a time and season for all things—and the time for the songs of Christmas is the season of Christmas. All that premature jollity divorced from the shivering expectation of Advent is enough to make anyone say “Bah, humbug!” So turn off your Christmas playlists, tune out the jingle-bells, and deck anyone hauling premature boughs of holly. This is Advent, kiddos. Buckle up.
With the help of the staff at First Things, I have prepared for you an Advent playlist of songs from various traditions that express the spirit of this season.
1. The King Shall Come
A popular hymn among Lutherans, this song reminds us of the two comings we await in Advent: we remember Christ's coming as a baby, but we also look forward to his coming, “crowned in glory like the sun that lights the morning sky.”
2. A Maiden Most Gentle
We should strive to unite ourselves in Advent with the Virgin Mary, who had the singular and blessed burden of carrying Christ in her womb. Like her, we must say fiat to God's plan for us and learn to bear Christ for the sake of our fellow man.
3. Creator of the Stars of Night
It is salutary for there to be some fear and trembling in Advent. We will meditate more on the Four Last Things during Lent, but it is never to early to think about the Last Judgment—certainly not when it is accompanied by such a hauntingly beautiful tune:
O Thou whose coming is with dread
To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.
4. O Come O Come Immanuel
This song's concern with the lonely exile of captive Israel before the promised coming of the Wisdom from On High unites it to the Advent themes we've been developing in this playlist. Plus, I really like it. You have my permission to play this song before Christmas.
5. In The Bleak Midwinter
Again, the expectant tone and eschatological preoccupation of Advent. The lyrics, from a poem by Christina Rossetti, paint the shivery natural setting of the Nativity story and aching glory of the Second Coming. Amen, Come Lord Jesus.
Alexi Sargeant is a junior fellow at First Things.