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We all have our favorite time of the year, right? Well, the Advent season is mine without a doubt. Most people assume that I mean Christmas, but I’m actually talking about the specific season of Advent. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Christmas just as much as the next person, but Advent is a special time for me both musically and spiritually. I would love to take you on a musical journey throughout this season, exploring both music you will encounter here at Christ the King, as well as a few supplementary selections. I’ll keep updating this page, as opposed to posting several different pages, so keep coming back! First, before the music, let me (try) to answer a few basic questions about Advent itself.
What is Advent? Advent is a liturgical season of the Church, marking the beginning of the Church year. There are always four Sundays in Advent, leading up to Christmas Eve, which officially launches the Christmas season of the Church. What I find profound about it is that begins where the story ends (or rather, truly begins), the second coming of Christ (I have a thing for non-linear narratives). Deeper into the season, it switches gears and launches us right into the story about the coming of Christ as a baby, the story of Christmas. So, there’s already a juxtaposition between the narratives of the first and second coming of Christ, and we get to participate in both! This is why we, as a tradition, light the Advent wreath for each Sunday, reflecting on themes fulfilled in the Christmas narrative. Hope, love, joy (the only candle that is pink), and peace are the four themes. At the same time, we also look ahead, preparing ourselves, our lives, for the second coming of Christ….who knows how many candles are ACTUALLY lit? Traditionally, the color of the season is either purple or blue. The latter is what we do at Christ the King (my personal preference), being the color of hope. It’s as if Advent were a prayer, a prayer for God to act….and the Christmas season is the answer to that very prayer.
Now for the music (click on the song title for a YouTube audio link of the song) For some information about music in general at Christ the King, refer to this earlier article CTK Music: Questions and Answers. I have also created a playlist of the songs below HERE. The order in the playlist isn’t the same as below, I tried to make them have more musical flow. Below is a musical journey in three parts: Recurring Music, Sunday specific music, and supplementary devotional music. Most of this is music we have done this Advent season. I am in no way suggesting that this is the music that should be done in other churches, ours even differs from year to year. This is mainly to shed light on the frame of mind behind the music and hopefully to inspire one to go deeper this season. Enjoy!
1. Recurring Music
The flagship hymn of Advent, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel threads the entire season together. Having routes all the way back to the 8th and 9th centuries, it was originally used to be chanted by monasteries the week before Christmas, chanting one of the seven verses each night in Latin (Veni, Veni, Emmanuel). Wording and verse order differ here and there, we sang five of the verses of this during our Eucharist on the first Sunday of Advent as a straight up hymn. It was also played as an instrumental prelude with flute and trumpet (thank you Karen and Peter!). We’ll use this song a few more times, each time being treated differently. So, for now, the link above sets the tone for the season, a wonderful instrumental arrangement from “The Piano Guys.”
This song, written only a few years ago, is what we are singing each time a family lights the Advent Wreath during Mass. The verses are actually made up of the well-known hymn Come Thou Almighty King by Charles Wesley (the “John Williams” of hymn writing). Already an appropriate hymn for Advent, the songwriter, Gabriel Wanous (founder of a great new publishing company called Worship Now, specializing in fitting contemporary music within liturgical settings), wrote an easy refrain to connect everything together. We will take a different verse each week while keeping the refrain to sing as many times over that the moment calls for. We did keep the original rhythmic meter of the original hymn as opposed to the slight pause in the verses on the recording. Enjoy this recording by the songwriter himself.
Same as last year, we are using the melody to this ancient Christmas Carol to the words of the Kyrie (Lord Have Mercy). This is in lieu of the Gloria, a traditional practice for the Advent and Lenten seasons. We then take an actual verse of the carol as a response, using the chant-like melody that goes back to10th Century origins, making it one of the oldest Christmas carols ever to be written out. It narrates that this is indeed the Christ, the One that was foretold from ages ago by the prophets, each verse ending in the phrase “evermore and evermore.” The above recording is straight-up for reference purposes, but my personal favorite rendition is here, a choir arrangement using the melody as a round.
Alright, now it’s time to get up and shout! Quite literally actually, as we are using a snippet of this as our Gospel Acclamation as the Deacon goes out to read the Gospel each week. As much as it pains me, we are not doing the extended drum intro to the song like the recording…maybe another time? Michael W. Smith was a staple in Christian music during the 1990’s and early 2000’s and is surprisingly still going (this song being from 2008). Please feel free to air drum with this one 🙂
This is where we are taking the most liberties during the liturgy because we are using this as our Sanctus (Holy) during the Advent season. A true Sanctus (a refrain sung or spoken during the Eucharist portion of the Mass) has a specific wording which is Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. That is what we sing each Mass, but for this season we are using a song that takes us through the Magnificat (Canticle sung by Mary after receiving the news that she will bear God’s Son from Luke 1:46-55). Similar to the Advent Wreath lighting, we will take a different verse each week, taking us through the Magnificat prayer, but keep the refrain the same, singing: And holy is your name through all generations! Everlasting is your mercy to the people you have chosen, and holy is your name. There are countless musical settings to the Magnificat, from full classical pieces to contemporary settings. This particular song is a simple Scottish folk melody, making it very singable.
2. Sunday specific: hymns, contemporary praise, and folk songs for worship and contemplation
Our first processional hymn of the season has a modal, almost renaissance-like quality, but was actually written in the early 1800’s. It is often called The Morning Song, emphasizing Christ’s return and the world being put back to rights, light triumphing over darkness. It short, and after a few rounds, stays in your head for a while! We did 3 verses out of the usual 5, all the stanzas quoting The King shall come when morning dawns, hence, the title.
This is probably my favorite praise and worship song for the beginning of Advent. Like most music, this is best blasted through the speakers 🙂 Chris Tomlin hit a home run capturing the second coming and our response to it. My favorite lyric is Call back the sinner, wake up the Saint; Let every nation shout of Your fame; Jesus is coming soon. Is that not the message to “rally” the church for Advent?
One of my all-time favorite Hillsong songs, this beautifully converges heart-filled prayer with heart-filled praise. It opens with the coming of Christ and new generations rising up, but the bridge is where it’s at, where we pray Heal my heart and make it clean; Open up my eyes to the things unseen; Show me how to love like You have loved me; Break my heart for what breaks Yours; Everything I am for Your Kingdom’s cause; As I walk from Earth into eternity. That is indeed how to prepare the way.
This is a song that has shown up in many different music circles, such as Gospel, Mississippi Blues, and even classical choirs. The message is the same, referencing the story from Matthew 25, emphasizing being ready when the time comes. This song has popped up like crazy for advent in the last 20 years or so, with too many variations to count. This recording is an old Gospel blues rendition, no thrills. I first encountered this song when we (the college choir) sang this version in college.
Our Processional hymn for the second Sunday in Advent, this hymn is a popular one in the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran traditions, having a rich harmonization (the tune is called “Winchester,” also used for other hymns) meant for organ and choirs. Well, we don’t have an organ, but we did have piano and harmonized vocal parts. This traditional hymn sets the stage for the story of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus in the Gospels.
No, not Prepare YE the Way like a few songs ago, just Prepare the Way. This brings the message of John the Baptist into a worship setting, with a repetitious melody and only one verse to be repeated. We sang this one for our second Sunday in Advent during the Eucharist, letting people join in the chorus for one last round after receiving. The recording is a bit dated, having a Shout to the Lord vibe, but easy to catch on to nonetheless.
No, I didn’t put the wrong web link on here…this song is intentional. We’re obviously not doing this song during Mass (or should we?), but is there not a better example of a modern-day version of the “prepare the way” message? This urban Gospel song may not be everyone’s cup of tea (although it really put Kirk Franklin on the map), but neither was John the Baptist, calling self-absorbed religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” This song is unapologetically in your face, riding the line of being too blunt for comfort. Take this line, Sick and tired of the Church talkin’ religion, but yet we talk about each other – MAKE A DECISION! No more racism, two face-ism, no pollution, a solution? A Revolution!
Let’s get back to worship, this song is a great way to kick things off for any Sunday in Advent, we used this one in our “praise set” for Advent 2. Maybe we’ll add the guitar solo next time 😉
John the Baptist’s message was to prepare the way. Well, we are preparing the way for the “Way Maker.” This song continued our praise set time, always a profound song because most people know this by now (it took Christian radio by storm in 2016/17) and even if people don’t know it, it’s simple enough to catch on and let go.
All this talk about John the Baptist, the Jordan River, people being baptized for repentance – sounds like a good time to pull this Spiritual out, even though it’s not really an Advent/Christmas song. This recording has different verses than what we sang for our recessional, but the refrain is there, and the groove is great!
This older German Carol, having roots in the 17th century, give the message that Jesus is the Christ from which the prophets foretold. This is a popular carol for both folk artists and choirs, having rich harmonies. During the offertory on the second Sunday of Advent, we sang this straight-up hymn style in as many vocal parts/harmonies as we could. You can find a nice choral version here.
This brief hymn speaks of the signs which accompany the coming of the Messiah, which Jesus makes reference to in Matthew 11:4-5. We will use this as our processional hymn for the 3rd Sunday of Advent. A widely used hymn across many denominations, there are a few different tunes assigned to these lyrics, we are using a lesser known but more memorable melody found in the Lutheran Service Book. One of our praise and worship songs (Praise in the City, by Bruce Carlson) speaks of these signs and wonders as well, but there isn’t an audio link.
One of our offertory songs was this gem, done by Trevor and Kate Hults. Very poetic in nature, the lyrics speak about the presence of God, in the person of Jesus, despite what emotions are happening on our end. A lot of songs talk about drawing near to God, but this song more accurately speaks about God drawing near to us.
Now we’re getting more and more into placing ourselves within the Christmas story. This relatively recent (2016) blended worship song by Matt Redman is a great way to really start introducing more Christmas-like music to Advent services. It’s almost like a teaser with its references to Joy to the World, as well as referencing the scripture used in the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, where it goes into the section, And He shall reign forever and ever…”
To round out our 3rd week of Advent, we recess to the beginning section of this blended hymn and song – a few verses and refrains. The verses are the lyrics and tune to the Christmas hymn God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, while the refrain is a new addition. We won’t be using the bridge, which is built around the phrase alleluia for liturgical reasons, but the first half of this song makes a great way to conclude the two Advents Sundays that are closest to Christmas.
Opening the fourth and last Sunday of Advent, we sing this popular Advent/Christmas hymn by Charles Wesley. It typically only sings two verses, but they contain more substance that most other songs could only dream of. I love this recording, especially the simple instrumentation.
Another hit from Matt Redman, this song at first won’t strike people as an Advent/Christmas song. It actually paraphrases sections of the Magnificat (see Holy Is Your Name above). Being a praise song for the last Sunday in Advent, we will then add the tag O come let us adore Him, quoting the refrain from O Come All Ye Faithful (which will coincidentally be our processional carol for Christmas Eve Mass).
Most often called The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came, this Advent hymn beautifully bridges the Advent and Christmas seasons, where this haunting hymn tells of God initiating the Christmas story, having the angel appear to Mary with the big news. The most profound version of the first verse is given at the end of the blog. For now, let the hymn itself set the stage for the Christmas story, it segues into the next song, Noel.
As we get closer and closer to the Christmas season, we include more and more hints of Christmas music until it goes full out on Christmas Eve. This song is a great example of the “come and see” message as we close out Advent and go into Christmas mode. Lauren Daigle (the Adele of Christian music) sings this song, but it is written by Chris Tomlin and Matt Redman.
3. A Devotional Playlist
Up to this point, we’ve gone through most of the music we have used/will use for our Sunday Masses in Advent. I want to close out with a devotional angle on the theme of waiting – waiting for God to act. We’ve all prayed for God to act, whether on a large scale or in our personal life. The wait itself can be hard, so let’s put ourselves into the story. God’s people were praying for many years for God to act, to deliver and restore them. These songs below are meant to meant to capture that angle. They are also meant to be played in order, and hopefully in one sitting so it goes straight through. The styles are sometimes intense, turn up your speakers and tune out distractions, this isn’t background music by any means – but journey is worth it, trust me! We’ll come out much brighter on the other side! If you are praying for God to act in your life, you too might just find the answer lying in a manger in Bethlehem.
“Mighty Lord, rise up; and hear the voice of Your people; show Yourself strong…”
“Don’t give up now; a break in the clouds; we will be found; rescue is coming…”
“And I want to believe; but all I pray is wrong; and all I claim is gone; and I, I got a question – where are you?”
“I live by faith, and not by sight; sometimes miracles take time…”
“I will not faint; I’ll be running the race, even while I wait…”
“He may not come when you want Him; But He’ll be right there on time; Help is on the way…”
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, o Israel…”
In the story, time and time again, God holds true to His promises, He answers the prayers of His people. In the story, something happened, as the last song proclaims. Guess what? We’re in the story. Now, we are ready to go into the Christmas season, the season of answered prayer. May our O Come, o come, Emmanuel become a Gloria in Excelsis Deo!
Thank you so much for taking time out to take a look at this musical journey through my favorite season of the church year. I hope it took a deeper look into not only the music, but the season itself. Please feel free to share this with anyone who would enjoy it. I would love to keep the conversation going and see what other churches are doing for Advent and beyond.
The link again to the YouTube playlist is HERE.
Keep Watch, Keep Listening, Keep Awake,
Isaiah 7:14 “Behold…”