I really enjoy our church’s hymnody. Someone might say, “Well, yeah. You get to pick them.” And I suppose that’s part of it. I rarely pick hymns I don’t like. But I think the bigger part of it is that in order to pick them, I have to read them ahead of time. This gives me a chance to meditate on them before we sing them. There is a depth to many of them that grows the more familiar we become with them. This can be part of our preparation for worship. I know some of you read the texts for a given Sunday ahead of time, and this is great preparation. Reading the hymns ahead of time would also be beneficial. Of course, I would have to tell you what the hymns are. So I’ll at least do that for Advent.
I would also encourage you, if you have not already done so, to purchase a copy of the Ambassador Hymnal for your home. They are available at ambassadorpublications.org. And, especially if you have children, sing to them. Hymns, in general, are much easier to sing than today’s pop songs. Try this out. Pick your favorite song from the radio, and try to sing it acapella. Then try a hymn like “Savior of the Nations, Come” (#11). Listen to yourself without the help of your stereo. Which sounds better? This is a general rule. Some hymns, like “Wake, Awake, For Night Is Flying” (#7), were written more as choral pieces and are a bit more difficult, but most of them are written to be sung by everyone. Pop songs, on the other hand, are written to be performed. Average people can sing along with them as long as the volume is high enough that we don’t notice that we can’t really sing them. Pop songs also come and go. But if we learn the hymnal, and if we teach our children these hymns, most of them will still be in use when our children are elderly. And if you don’t know the tune of a hymn, ask YouTube.
Advent is one of my favorite seasons for hymns. There’s a combination of both longing and rejoicing that characterizes the Christian life. I would also expect that all of the hymns we sing this Advent season will still be sung regularly in a hundred years, unless, of course, Jesus returns before then. Here they are, along with a few brief notes.
#1: “Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates”
#11: “Savior of the Nations, Come”
#5: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
On the first Sunday of Advent, these hymns all focus on the theme of Jesus coming to us. The first one is triumphant and joyful. The text of the second, “Savior of the Nations, Come,” was written over 1,600 years ago by Ambrose of Milan, one of the great Church fathers. There’s a reason it has endured this long. The third, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” expresses our proper longing for a Savior.
#13: “Prepare the Way, O Zion!”
#328: “On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist’s Cry”
#3: “O How Shall I Receive Thee”
The first two of these reflect the teaching of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus’ first coming. I also know a little boy who forced his parents to sing “On Jordan’s Banks” every night for a month. “O How Shall I Receive Thee” is a good communion hymn. It may also have the best text of any Advent hymn. Perhaps I will write an article on just this hymn next Advent. For now, consider the third stanza:
Love caused Thine incarnation,
Love brought Thee down to me;
Thy thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
O love beyond all telling
That led Thee to embrace,
In love all love excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.
December 12: Sunday School Program
#2: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
#40: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”
#18: “Joy to the World! The Lord Is Come”
On the Fourth Sunday in Advent we move from longing to pure joy. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is the quintessential Advent hymn. It connects Old Testament prophecies with their fulfillment in Jesus. It communicates both the longing and the joy of Advent. And it’s about as good of a wedding between text and tune as you can get. We use it to close Advent. The last two are technically Christmas hymns, because by this Sunday we’re reading about the Son of God coming into the world as a human being in the womb of the Virgin Mary. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” is another 1,600-year-old hymn. The tune, which is about 800 years old, is my favorite tune in the entire hymnal. And “Joy to the World!” is like the fireworks at the end of Advent as we hit a note of pure joy, because our Lord and King has come to be our Savior.
I hope this helps you appreciate Advent as much as I do. May the peace of Christ be with you,