Other Worlds
The Crux of Ginsburg's Dissent

Advent

Today I continue my blog series on hymns.  The last post was June 4 on Thanksgiving.  I didn't pack hymnals along for my trip to Yale, so there was a hiatus while I was away.  This is the twenty-second post in the series.

It was also at Rolling Hills Baptist Church that I began participating in worship planning for the season of Advent.  Growing up at First Baptist Miami, the church did not observe Advent, though our family did, lighting the candles of an Advent wreath at home during Sunday dinner.  At First Baptst Church of Shawnee the church did observe the season.

David Breckenridge, the Senior Pastor at Rolling Hills, was big into Advent planning.  Months ahead of time the entire staff would meet and plan not only the overarching theme, but also the specific details of each Sunday, including the hymns.  Rolling Hills then produced a booklet every year for Advent, complete with all the orders of worship and daily devotional written by the church members.  At Royal Lane we would plan similarly, and also produced elaborate, beautiful Advent booklets.

At Rolling Hills we were very concerned with distinguishing between Advent and Christmas, though we were limited in what music to pick, as The Baptist Hymnal only included eight Advent hymns.  At subsequent churches I served, we had more to choose from and were even more diligent about saving Christmas carols until at least the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and sometimes here at First Central we've sung no Christmas carols until Christmas Eve.

The greatest Advent carol, and one I've occassionally found use for at other times of the year, is the ancient hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel:

O come, O come, Emmaneul, 
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

As the New Century Hymnal notes, "In the medieval Western church, seven "Great O" antiphons, the basis for this hymn, were sung consecutively on the seven days before Christmas, ending with what appears above as the first stanza."  A few years ago, here at First Central, we did a special Wednesday night worship during Advent focused on these antiphons and the names of God reflected in each one.  My favourite has always been:

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Less beautiful, but still a standard is the Charles Wesley hymn, set to HYFRYDOL "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus."

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of ev'ry nation,
Joy of ev'ry longing heart.

Only at Rolling Hills, among the places I served, did "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" become a standard we sang every Advent (again, we only had eight choices in the hymnal).  In other churches it gets sung every now and then during the season.

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-gone was the night.

One of my favourite Advent hymns appears in the UCC's New Century Hymnal in the communion section.  It dates from the fourth century and the Antiochene or West Syrian church as part of the Liturgy of St. James.  In that liturgy it is the "Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn" and is sung as the communion elements are brought to the table.  It is commonly sung during Advent in many contemporary churches.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded.
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

At Rolling Hills I used this hymn effectively once during our annual lessons and carols service which we held on a Sunday evening out at the Belle Gable Chapel.  Our Advent theme that year had to do with light, and I picked some unconventional lessons but which worked well, including pairing this hymn with the passage from Ezekiel 1 where the prophet has the vision of the wheel within a wheel.

While serving at Royal Lane Baptist Church, I would acquire a new favourite Advent hymn, which I first learned there and have sung at the two subsequent churches.  Here is the version I first learned from the hymnal Worship & Rejoice.

Awake!  awake, and greet the new morn, for angels herald its dawning.
Sing out your joy, for soon he is born, behold! the Child of our longing.
Come as a baby weak and poor to bring all hearts together, 
He opens wide the heavenly door and lives now inside us forever.

The verse I like best is the third:

In darkest night his coming shall be, when all the world is despairing,
As morning light so quiet and free, so warm and gentle and caring.
Then shall the mute break forth in song, the lame shall leap in wonder,
The weak be raised above the strong, and weapons be broken asunder.

In the NCH the last part of that verse becomes:

One without voice breaks forth in song, a lame one leaps in wonder,
The weak are raise above the strong, and weapons are broken asunder.

The final part of the fourth verse is also nice:

Love be our song and love our prayer, and love, our endless story,
May God fill every day we share, and bring us at last into glory.

I really like that "Love, our endless story."

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