December 12, 2012 Comments Off on Advent Hymns
The tune Merton, “Hark a Thrilling Voice is Sounding” (#59) is my very favorite tune in our current hymnal, with Bach’s harmonization of Wachet auf ! “Sleepers Wake!” (#61) a close second. What is it exactly about the Advent hymns that many of us regular church goers find so uplifting? Is it simply the music? Or is it the texts that inspire us so? Charles Wesley’s “Lo he comes with clouds descending” is especially pithy, theologically. Or it is a particularly felicitous match of text and music? Each of these aspects adds to the uniqueness of Advent hymnody. And since we only sing most of these hymns during the four weeks of Advent there are all of the seasonal associations that heighten the emotional impact of these hymns.
But when we strip away these sentiments, what we actually have in early Advent are some uneasy texts about universal change. The Second Coming of Christ is good news but also devastating because it heralds the destruction and reformation of all earthly things. I try to remind myself, as I sing along to these early Advent tunes, that Christ in glory and triumph is not manageable or comfortable but the opposite. More like Hurricane Sandy than Anglican worship. More like global warming than Advent Lessons and Carols. So my resolution this Advent is to pay closer attention to the texts while I am singing them, and not to be so absorbed by the soaring melodies and descants of the hymnody that I lose the plot.
– The Rev. Caroline M. Stacey, Rector