The Music of Advent

Singing has always been my favorite way to pray. The songs of advent provide some of the richest texts and most beautiful melodies with which to pray. So this post comes with a playlist (click here for the songs). Below you will find my favorite verse from each of the selected songs, but you’ll get very little interpretation from me today. Instead, I offer an invitation. Pray these songs with me. What lines speak to you? What are the ones you need to repeat over and over? Which ones ring true?

If music speaks to you, listen to the playlist as you read the words, some of the songs have multiple versions-I couldn’t pick just one! There’s also a few bonus tracks on the playlist. If you are looking for a fun challenge see how many of these you recognize before listening to the music. If you aren’t so much a music person…well that’s very sad for you, but there is still plenty to be gleaned from the text alone. As you read the words think about where you see the themes of hope, love, joy and peace (could you hear my teacher voice come out there?).

“Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us; let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the Earth thou art; dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.”

“Light one candle to watch for Messiah: let the light banish darkness. He shall bring salvation to Israel, God fulfills the promise.” This song was unknown to me until I began the practice of singing through the advent section of the hymnal during this season. I love the imagery of the lights growing brighter, another candle is added in each verse (sound like something else we do in advent…) as we wait for the coming light of Christ.

Comfort, comfort now my people; tell of peace!’ So says our God. ‘Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning under sorrows load. To my people now proclaim that my pardon waits for them! Tell them that their sins I cover, and their warfare now is over.” (By now you may have guessed that I am a very specific type of churchy nerd-luckily my friends are too. On a recent car ride we were discussing our favorite advent songs and may or may not have broken out into a little sing-along featuring this song…totally normal, right?).

“O come thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” There’s no way I could have made a post about advent music without including O Come O Come Emmanuel. If I had to pick one song that encapsulates all of advent it would be this one. Somehow in this song I can hear both joyful expectation and deep longing.

“O Spring of Joy, rain down upon our spirits; our thirsty hearts are yearning for your word: come, make us whole, be comfort to our hearts. For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you.”

“Heavy clouds that block the moonlight now begin to drift away. Diamond brilliance through the darkness shines the hope of coming day. Christ, the morning star of splendor, gleams within a world grown dim. Heaven’s ember fans to fullness; hearts grow warm to welcome him” When I was in early widowhood I was so captivated by the thought of the heavy clouds finally drifting away. My world was still quite dark, but there was the promise of hope-the promise of coming day.

“Though I am small, my God my all, you work great things in me, and your mercy will last from the depths of the past to the end of the age to be. Your very name puts the proud to shame and to those who would for you yearn, you will show your might, put the strong to flight, for the world is about to turn. My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn. Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn.” I am obsessed with this song. Here we clearly see the hope for a liberating God, a God who tears every tyrant from their throne.

“Watchman, tell us of the night, what its signs of promise are. Traveler, what a wonderous sight: see that glory beaming star. Watchman, does its beauteous ray news of joy or hope foretell? Traveler, yes; it brings the day, promised day of Israel.” Ok, I can’t help myself I have to say something about this last one. I love the interplay of the watchman and the traveler. I especially love that this watchman is an expert in the night. This is someone who is comfortable in the dark, a guide through the night. The traveler is full of questions, full of fear, unsure of what the night will bring but they are never alone. Then at the very end (which is why you need to sing all the verses) the watchman is relieved of their duties. They get to “hasten to your quiet home.” Why? Because Emmanuel has come.

If churchy songs aren’t really your thing, but you still want to lean into the hope, love, joy, and peace of advent then I invite you to explore these playlists. Curated by Sarah Mills, pastoral intern at Winthrop Congregational Church these playlists fit the theme of each week of advent without being overtly Christian. She has made one for each week of advent. Currently available are: Hope, Joy, Peace.

One thought on “The Music of Advent

  1. If you count the various BBC TV film and radio adaptions of the CS Lewis “Narnia” series, there have been 14 both film and TV attempts at bringing the series to the screen. Most if not all have fallen short simply because the writers, producers, money folks assume the faith or Christo centrist core of the message would never sell or be accepted by a wider mass audience, hence they attempt to make Lewis’ books just another child fantasy series, like a Potter but with talking Lions and mice. Never has or ever will work.

    Same applies to Advent or any other type of faith or church music. Apart from Jesus Christ as Savior Messiah, God incarnate with all the baggage and implications that brings, theology, doctrine and all. The concepts of Joy, Peace, Love and hope are nothing more than nice human emotional aspirational type feelings. Much like the bumper sticker, “just be kind”. Nice idea, but being kind will not either redeem or transform your life. And if you want the spirit of the Season, without the churchy content or commitment, turn on Hallmark channel and I am sure the Danish Prince and Iowa farm girl story will be on again and again. One of the greater failings of Progressive Christianity, among others, is to assume Gen Z or Millennials in general will not take to the Word, Sacrament, doctrine, confession, redemption stuff about Jesus. So they invent this Jesus lite. Dating Jesus, best boyfriend ever, without all that messy issue of commitments and promises. Bring him home to meet mom or dad? A bloodless cut out, easy to digest, but with no form or content, a powerless avatar, save what they put into him. Wonder what they do with all the Lent and Cross stuff?

    Want to sing Advent hymns? Go to church, open the book and sing. Usually this time of year they have kids pageants, (baby Jesus 1957, Canonsburg Presbyterian) and the pastor usually talks about Baby Jesus, not that bad really.

    And for those CS Lewis fans. Best adaption of all time, BBC Radio 1959 60, CS Lewis in his own voice, reading “Lion Witch and Wardrobe”. In his Belfast Liverpool English accent. Which he also happened to write in his own hands. Not much better than that.


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