Hello again, and happy Advent!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been listening to/singing Christmas and Advent songs since October (I use the fact that I led worship at an Advent service last night as my official excuse for doing so, as we’d been planning it for months). There’s something about the spirit of the season that brings so much needed joy into my life. While I’ve been struggling with planning out my future, preparing for finals week, all that’s going on in the world, and just general frustrations with different aspects of life, Advent music never fails to lift my spirits.
So what’s the difference between Advent music and Christmas music, you ask?
As I discussed in my last post, while Christmas celebrates specifically the birth of Jesus, Advent celebrates Jesus coming down to earth, both as a child and in the future when he comes again. So here are a few songs–some of which you probably already know–that are perfect for getting you into the spirit of hope, love, joy, and peace (the four themes of Advent). In no particular order:
O COME, O COME EMMANUEL
This song is a perfect example of an Advent prayer and song. While we tend to associate it with Christmas, the lyrics actually give no mention of the birth of Jesus whatsoever. It does, however, talk plenty about the coming of Emmanuel, or God With Us. Just check out the lyrics to the third verse: “O Come, Thou dayspring, Come and cheer/Our spirits by Thine advent here…” The fact that it mentions several parts of the Old Testament, as well as the implications of justice for the captives–a big theme with Advent–indicate that the 12th century writers probably had a certain goal in mind when they wrote this song.
[Update: When I first published this post, I had the Pentatonix version up here as the recording, but that has since been taken down. So I was able to still find another acapella version by a group called Hymns and Hers, who provide a minimalist, but very intentionally-arranged acapella rendition of the classic song, as you can see above.]
JOY TO THE WORLD
Like O Come, O Come, Joy to the World gives no mention of the birth of Jesus or of Christmas. But it talks plenty about Christ coming to earth, and, even more so, how we are to respond to that: with joy! Obviously! Let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare him room and let all of creation sing for joy at the advent of our Savior!
MAY YOU FIND A LIGHT/REPRISE (THE BRILLIANCE)
This is one that most probably aren’t familiar with. For those of you who don’t know, The Brilliance is a piano/string quartet group founded by John Ardnt and David Gungor (the brother of Michael Gungor from, well, Gungor), and a lot of their music focuses on liturgical and justice-oriented themes.
This particular song, which is actually a medley, comes at the end of their first Advent album (they have two! Available on iTunes here and here and Advent, Vol. 2 is available on YouTube here) and the joy found in the music is quite simply unmatched. The music is absolutely beautiful and the lyrics are simple yet powerful. It’s addressed to “strangers” and “lost and weary travelers” who are longing for a home, and Advent reminds us that Jesus came down for the sake of those very people. I could keep going, but just listen to it. It’ll be well worth it.
COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS
There is so much power and poetry in just the title alone. Just think of that that one line implies. “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus. History has been waiting for you to come down to earth. For thousands of years, we’ve been hearing about this God, this Messiah that would come down to earth and set the captives free, redeem the world of its sins, and spread hope, joy, love, and peace with all the world! We know you’ve come before; so come again! Redeem us again!”
Of course, the actual lyrics are pretty top notch, as well (would you expect anything less from Charles Wesley?). And this live a capella version that Christy Nockels sang, with the lyrics above, is near perfect, as the entire audience sings and harmonizes along with with her and there’s little if any attempt to make it flashy or anything more than what it needs to be. So give it a listen if you haven’t yet!
LOVE CAME DOWN AT CHRISTMAS
I never grew up knowing this song, and so this version by folksy duo Jenny and Tyler above is the first time I’d ever heard it. 1 John 4:7-8 says that whoever loves is born of God and knows God, because God is love. God became flesh and dwelt among humankind (John 1:14)–we have seen it and testify to it (1 John 1:2)–and now, we can know what it is and what it means to love. That is the miracle of Advent.
GOD WITH US (MERCYME)
People don’t tend to associate this song with Advent–or with Christmas, for that matter–but it is, in fact, a worship song that emphasizes God coming down to earth to be with us. Emmanuel (or Immanuel) is prophesied about in Isaiah 7:14, and then fulfilled to Mary in Matthew 1:23. Through the advent of Christ, we now know God in the flesh, God as a human who lives alongside us. That’s certainly something worthy of worship.
O, HOLY NIGHT
This song will forever be one of my favorite songs of all time. The melody is gorgeous, and the lyrics profess of a God who has come down and has called us to love–for his law is love and his gospel is peace. That is what Jesus’s life was all about. In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbors, and that message is so wonderfully articulated in this song. And then, of course, Josh Groban has the voice of an angel, so that also helps.
HOW MANY KINGS (DOWNHERE)
This song has made its rounds on the radio and in Christmas services a countless number of times since it was first released in 2008, and yet, I’m still not quite tired of it. The chorus turns all earthly perceptions of what it means to be “Great” on its head, and shows that this is only something that can be accomplished by a God. This, Jesus, is the king, the father, the Messiah that we’ve been waiting for.
FOR UNTO US A CHILD IS BORN
I come from a family full of choir geeks, and because of that I just wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had neglected to put a song from Handel’s Messiah on this list. The lyrics to this song–along with the lyrics to almost all the pieces in Messiah–come directly from scripture. Here, this is a prophecy from Isaiah 9:6 (KJV), which states,
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
I listened to a lot of versions to try to find the one with the best pace and the best 90s hairstyles, and this one definitely took the cake. So enjoy that.
I WILL WAIT FOR YOU THERE (PHIL WICKHAM)
This song also hasn’t typically been associated with any sort of holiday or holiday season, but it captures a huge motif found in Advent, which is living through a time of waiting. While Jesus has come once, our world is still broken, and we are still in desperate, aching need of his return. In this song, Phil Wickham sings (beautifully) about finding a place to dwell with God, “far from the world and its violence” which has left him “broken and bare” and in despair. In times like this, we don’t really know what we can do, and so we wait, we hope, and we trust in God. And as I’ve said before, Advent is all about acknowledging that which has not yet occurred. Jesus is coming back again, and while we don’t know when, we anxiously await his return and the implementation of the Kingdom of God in its truest and purest form. While we can hardly stand the wait now, it’ll surely be worth it in the end.
Thanks for reading. Until next time.