We’re now in the season of Advent, the liturgical season leading up to Christmas. The word Advent means, literally, “coming” – and this season helps us not only remember the expectation for the Messiah’s birth in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago but to prepare ourselves with expectation for Jesus’ coming again in glory.
If, like me, you lead worship at a church that observes this season in some way, you’re probably wondering what kind of songs work as Advent songs and what you’re supposed to do during this liturgical season. Here are some suggestions for ways you can help your congregation prepare for Jesus’ coming over these next few weeks.
Wait until Christmas to sing Christmas songs
Shopping malls put Christmas decorations up right after Halloween. Radio stations play Christmas music while Thanksgiving turkey is still on your plate. Why in the world would we wait so long to sing Christmas songs at church? Because the waiting makes a point. Making your congregation wait until Christmas to sing Christmas songs is a tangible way of fostering an atmosphere of anticipation and expectation. It might even unsettle some people. But through your intentional leadership, you can help people see that this is a season to prepare for Jesus’ coming. Go crazy on Christmas Eve, Christmas day, and the Sunday after Christmas. Hold your horses during Advent.
Sing Advent hymns
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (iTunes download)
Probably the most well-known Advent hymn. It has 8 verses, some of which were meant to be sung on certain days of the week leading up to Christmas. I usually use verses 1, 4, 6, and 7. There are lots of different versions of the text of this hymn floating around. I use the text from the 1982 Episcopal hymnal, although I’m sure there are better texts out there.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”
Sometimes I’ll give this hymn a driving 4/4 beat, and in between some of the verses I’ll use the refrain from Brenton Brown’s “All Who Are Thirsy” that says “come, Lord Jesus, come”. Here is a really rough recording (i.e. sound board mix – reduced quality for space reasons – with mistakes – never intended to be posted on the internet…) of us doing this at my church in 2006.
“Lo He Comes with Clouds Descending” (verses 1, 2, 3, 5) (iTunes download)
Not the most well-known hymn in the world, but one of my favorites. I prefer the tune Helmsley. Don’t rush it and sing it too fast. Let the words really sink in.
Other hymns that aren’t technically “Advent hymns” but that still have a theme of expectancy for Jesus’ return:
“Come Thou Fount” (iTunes download)
The often-omitted fourth verses talks about “…that day when, freed from sinning, I shall see thy lovely face…” and says “come, my Lord, no longer tarry…” A great prayer for Advent. I like the additional/alternate lyrics courtesy of Bob Kauflin.
Tomorrow I’ll share some contemporary songs that work well during the season of Advent.