The ubiquitous "sounds of Christmas," in shops, elevators,
and on radio and TV, are among the most powerful influences on us to think about
Christmas, rather than Advent, from the middle of November on. As a parody once
put it, "Hark, the herald angels cry,/ telling us, 'Go out and buy.'" Once a
catchy tune (even, sometimes, a bad tune!) begins ringing in our ears and
repeating again and again in our head, it is difficult to get it out. And the
subconscious effect on our mood and our attitudes is substantial. Thus, one of
the ways we can work on rediscovering Advent is to learn some of the rich
hymnody that has been composed for the season. It is not likely to replace
the music that is piped into public places, but iPods and other portable devices
now make it possible to have our own musical backgrounds, no matter what is
going on around us. We also have the ability to startle those around us by
programming cell phone ring tones with short bursts of seasonal tunes. The truth
is that modern technology has the potential to become the best defense (and
revenge!) against the intrusions of modern culture. A selection of Advent CDs is
available at our bookshop.
As we have noted elsewhere,
hymns can be profoundly theological. Indeed, for many
people they are a primary source of theological understanding, and this is as it
should be in a Church that takes seriously the rule lex orandi lex credendi
("we believe what we pray"). Most of the hymns we highlight here are found
in The Hymnal 1982 ("TH 82" below) of the Episcopal Church in the
U.S., but we also draw on other sources. If a hymn title is underlined, clicking
on it will take you to a page of one of the online hymnals that provide further
information and, often, a midi recording of the tune. There are a lot of good
Advent hymns and we have not attempted to include them all here, but you will
find some of the best (in our opinion) and a few that may be new to you.
Lo! he comes
with clouds descending(TH 82 #58 ) This is the classic hymn
of the Second Coming, a moving word picture of the glory and the dread of the
return of Christ to judge the living and the dead. The hymn has gone through
several redactions. The original was written by John Cennick in 1752. Several
years later, Charles Wesley produced a substantial reworking of Cennick's hymn.
TH 82 provides two musical settings, John Francis Wade's simpler tune
St. Thomas and the powerful Helmsley. Like the text, the latter tune
has also been revised. The original tune by Thomas Olivers was altered by Martin
Madan who published it in 1769.
long expected Jesus (TH 82 #66) is another Charles Wesley
hymn, a gentle prayer to the infant King to enter our hearts and raise us to
heaven. Although it was originally written as two stanzas of eight lines each,
it has been set to the tune Stuttgart in recent American hymnals (1940
and 1982) as four stanzas of four lines each.
Creator of the stars of night(TH 82 #60) The Latin original
of this hymn first appears in manuscripts of the ninth and tenth centuries. Both
a plea for divine compassion and a hymn of praise to God the Creator, Redeemer,
and Judge of fallen humanity, it is the office hymn in the monastic office of
Vespers. The English translation of John Mason Neale was first published in 1851
and has been revised and updated several times. The plainsong melody,
Conditor alme siderum, is the traditional tune associated with this hymn.
Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
(TH 82 #59) Edward Caswall translated this tenth century Latin hymn and
published it in 1849. Its tells of Christ the Sun who dispels darkness and
"shines upon the morning skies" and was appointed to be sung daily in Advent at
the daybreak office of Lauds in the Sarum rite. The tune Merton by
William Henry Monk has been closely associated with this hymn ever since text
and tune were published together in the Parish Choir in 1850.
People, look Eastis a modern Advent carol written by
Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965) and set to a traditional carol tune, Besançon.
It was first published in The Oxford Book of Carols in 1928. The carol
bids people and angels and all creation to watch and prepare for the coming of
Sleepers, wake(TH 82 #61, 62) It is ironic that the parable of the wise and
foolish virgins, to which this hymn refers, is not read in Advent. At least,
this is the case in the Episcopal Church of the U.S. However, the parable does
occur as the Gospel three Sundays before Advent in Year A of the Eucharistic
Lectionary. That is to say, it is read at the very beginning of
Lent every three years. Philipp Nicolai's stirring tune, Wachet auf
("wake up"), contributes to the urgency of this call to prepare for the arrival
of the Bridegroom which will be at a time we do not expect.
comfort ye my people (TH 82
#67) was written in German by Johannes G. Olearius
(1611-1684) for the feast of the Nativity of
St. John the Baptist. The English translation by Catherine Winkworth was
published in 1863. The text paraphrases Isaiah 40 and identifies the voice in
the wilderness as John the Baptist.
There's a voice in the wilderness crying(TH 82 #75) This is a newer
hymn (1931) based on the same text from Isaiah. The text and a different tune
than the 1982 Hymnal tune are found on
On Jordan's bank
the Baptist's cry (TH 82
#76) Although he does not have a feast day in Advent, John the Baptist is
clearly one of the chief saints of Advent. He bridges the gap between the Old
and New Testaments, proclaiming, as in the previous hymn, the traditional
prophetic promise of the coming Messiah, and then pointing specifically to
Jesus, the long-awaited fulfilment of that promise. This Latin hymn of the 18th
century repeats the Baptist's warning that repentance is a necessary
precondition to participation in the coming salvation.
The King shall come when morning dawns(TH 82 #73) The original Greek source
of this hymn is unknown. The Hymnal 1982 version unfortunately omits a
verse which includes a reference to the resurrection of our Lord and provides
the essential link between his coming "of old [as] a little child" and his
appearance again as King of kings.
Come thou, Redeemer of the earth
John Mason Neale's translation of a hymn by St. Ambrose is not found in many
hymnals. Nevertheless, it is a familiar Advent hymn to those who know the Advent
Service of Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge.
Savior of the nations, come!(TH 82 #54) This hymn of St. Ambrose
comes to us by way of a paraphrase by Martin Luther and translations by William
M. Reynolds and James Waring McCrady. It is set to the majestic German tune,
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, which J.S. Bach used in a number of his
O come, O come, Emmanuel(TH 82 #56) This ninth
century hymn is based on the Great O antiphons which are sung with the
Magnificat each day beginning on December 16th. A fuller explanation of the
origins of the hymn and a number of links can be found by clicking on
of the North, rejoice
Charles E. Oakley (1832-1865) wrote this hymn
that gives the season of Advent a missionary perspective. It is sung to the
tune Little Cornard, written by Martin Shaw.
Service of Lessons and Carols for Advent
The service of lessons and carols at the beginning of Advent is a popular
tradition. While there is a good deal of choral music that is appropriate to
this service, it is not necessary for it to be limited to churches with
choirs. We offer here a format that requires only congregational singing. If a
choir is available, choral selections may be sung in addition to or in place of
any of the hymns.
service may begin with the nave in darkness and lights only on the high altar.
At the beginning of the service, the [choir and] clergy are at the back of the
church. The use of light and movement in the service is symbolic, representing
the movement of fallen humanity from the darkness of sin and death toward
redemption and life in the light of God’s eternal Kingdom. At the heart of the
service are readings from Scripture that describe how God planned from ancient
times to send a Messiah to bring his people out of exile and misery. Readings
from the New Testament continue the story of God’s plan as it unfolds in the
birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God, and comes to a climax and
final act in his return at the end of time to complete the promised redemption.
Following each reading, there are carols and hymns that have been chosen to aid
reflection on the meaning of these things as the Advent season of expectation
and hope begins.
I look from afar:
People: And lo, I see the power of God coming, and a cloud
covering the whole earth.
Officiant: Go ye out to meet him and say:
People: Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over
thy people Israel?
Officiant: High and low, rich and poor, One with another,
People: Go ye out to meet him and say:
Officiant: Hear, O thou shepherd of Israel, thou that
leadest Joseph like a sheep.
People: Tell us, art thou he that should come?
Officiant: Stir up thy strength, O Lord, and come
People: To reign over thy people Israel.
Officiant: Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to
the Holy Ghost.
People: I look from afar: and lo, I see the power of God
coming, and a cloud covering the whole earth. Officiant: Go ye out to meet him and say:
People: Tell us, art thou he that should come to reign over
thy people Israel?
Processional Hymn: Creator of the stars of night
As the [choir and] clergy move forward, the clergy share the flame of their
candles with members of the congregation.
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
The text for a bidding prayer for an Advent service can be found in The Book
of Occasional Services. If the service has begun in darkness, the lights are
turned on following the Lord's Prayer and the people extinguish their candles.
come, O come, Emmanuel
Lesson: Baruch 4:36-5:9 - The prophet Baruch calls the people to look east
because their salvation is at hand. Hymn: People, look East
Lesson: Isaiah 6:1-11 – God commissions Isaiah to be the prophet of the
Advent. Hymn: Comfort, comfort ye my people
Lesson: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:9-10 – The prophet foretells the birth of Emmanuel, God
with us. Carol: Virgin-born, we bow before thee
Lesson: Isaiah 35:1-10 – The desert shall bloom and the glory of the Lord
shall be revealed. Hymn: Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding
Lesson: Luke 1:26-38 – The angel Gabriel salutes the Blessed Virgin Mary Carol: The angel Gabriel from heaven came
Lesson: Matthew 3:1-12 – John the Baptist appears in the wilderness,
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for sins. Hymn: On Jordan’s bank the Baptist's cry
Lesson: Revelation 1:1-8; 22:20-21 - Saint John the Divine beholds a vision
of the end.
Officiant: We wait for thy loving-kindness, O Lord. People: In the midst of thy temple. Officiant: The whole creation pleads: People: Come, Lord Jesus! Officiant: The Spirit and the Church cry out: People: Come, Lord Jesus! Officiant: All those who await his appearance cry out: People: Come, Lord Jesus!