We all know which carols to pull out for Christmas, but which carols do we turn to if we really want to observe Advent rather than start our Christmas celebrations early?
Of course the two classics that are already familiar to most congregations are: “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” They work as Advent carols because they convey the sense of waiting and preparation that Advent entails. “Come” is the dominant word and theme, and these carols evoke both Israel’s longing for the Messiah, and our own longing for Christ to return and make all things new.
Other traditonal Advent hymns incude Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending, here sung by the Lichfield Cathedral Choir. T, Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding, and Rejoice, Rejoice Believers. These hymns speak of Christ’s second coming, and call us to prepare ourselves for his return. On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry calls us to confess our sins and prepare, once again, to welcome Christ.
Lest you feel that only hymn-singing congregations can celebrate Advent, however, allow me to recommend a few songs that, while not traditionally sung during Advent, certainly belong within a season of pain, waiting and longing. Laurell Hubick’s song Lift (unfortunately, all I have in the link to itunes, if anyone has chords, music, or a video for this song, please post it in comments) is a gentle way to enter into the disparity between what our world is, and what it should be, while still singing praise. Stephen Toon’s Even Though has a similar feel.
I would also commend to you a song that I found last year, when trolling through “holiday” music on itunes. It is an old carol that was traditionally used by beggars as Christmas approached, as a way of encouraging passersby to give more freely. It’s a haunting and repetative melody, and the lyrics are strongly moralistic, for which it has been criticised. As an Advent carol, however, it contains a confessional element (or a call to confession) that is very helpful in preparation for Christmas. I refer you here to Steve Winwood’s interpretation of the carol, but there is also a lovely acapella version by the The Watersons. The lyrics follow. Steve Winwood: “Christmas Is Now Drawing Near at Hand”Christmas is now drawing near at hand Come serve the Lord and be at His command And God a portion for you will provide And give a blessing to your soul besides Down in the garden where flowers grow in ranks Down on your bended knees and give the Lord thanks Down on your knees and pray both night and day Leave off your sins and live upright I pray So proud and lofty is some sort of sin Which many take delight and pleasure in Whose conversation God doth much dislike And yet He shakes His sword before He strike So proud and lofty do some people go Dressing themselves like players in a show They patch and paint and dress with idle stuff As if God had not made ’em fine enough Even little children learn to curse and swear And can’t rehearse one word of godly prayer Oh teach them better, oh teach them to rely On Christ the sinner’s friend who reigns on high