Music plays an essential rôle in my Advent preparations.
Liturgical worship is full of paradoxes, one of which is that we don’t sing Christmas carols as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus. This practice of self-denial has become part of my annual Advent discipline. Singing is necessary to my being, so forgoing the songs and carols of Christmas provides a strong reminder that to wait is difficult, to live only with hope is frightening, and to prepare is essential.
Fortunately, we have the beautiful hymns of Advent to guide our preparations: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry; Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus; The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns; Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding. There are so many more, and the Sundays of Advent are so few, that these hymns are made more precious because they are so rare; we seldom hear them more than once a year.
The one exception is my haunting favorite, whose verses originated at least as early as the 8th century as the “O Antiphons,” each referring to one of the names of Jesus–Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of Nations, and God with Us. These plainsong antiphons were sung on the last seven days of Advent. Although our hymnal retains the dates, we routinely hear the stirring strains of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” throughout the Advent season.