Hymns and Lessons for Advent 1 (Cycle A)

Advent begins this Sunday.The First Sunday in Advent marks the beginning of the Church Year, a four-week season of preparation.

During Advent, Christians are preparing to welcome Christ. The focus of the entire season is anticipating the return of Christ the King, who will come again just as surely as He was born on that first Christmas more than 2.000 years ago. The Hymns and readings for Advent include themes of accountability for how we have lived our lives, God’s judgment on sin, and our hope for eternal life.

Advent is a four-week long season of expectation, of anticipation, of preparation, and of hope. During this season we are longing that God will finally bring in the reign of His Messiah who will rule all Creation with peace, justice and righteousness; that just as surely as Christ was born a little child in order to be crucified for our redemption 2000 years ago, he will return as King to rule over all the earth.

I do hope that you will click on each of the hymns below. For each of this Sunday’s hymns, I found a YouTube video that vividly and accurately captures what is “going on in my head” as all of us are singing each particular hymn, in its particular “hymn slot” — Processional, Hymn of the Day, Distribution Hymn, and Recessional for the First Sunday in Advent. I couldn’t believe how perfectly these videos captured the theology and symbolism of Advent!(Of course, subscribers to my blog will need to click on the title of this blog in order to see and hear the YouTube videos of these hymns.)

Fling Wide the Door: This hymn was written for the first Sunday in Advent and urges all believers to “fling wide” the doors of the human heart. It reminds us of things that Christ has done for us already, as well as the things we are promised when He comes again.This hymn also reminds us that we need to be patient for Christ’s return as we clear our hearts and make room for Christ.

Savior of the Nations Come: This fabulous hymn was written by Ambrose of Milan (St. Ambrose) during the 300s. It was translated from Latin to German by Martin Luther. The harmony was written by Johann S. Bach. This is an important hymn! It is the traditional Hymn of the Day for the First Sunday in Advent. Please watch the entire YouTube version of this hymn: the graphics really pick up the enormity of what this hymn in trying to put into words. And then on Sunday, really pay attention to the words.

Creator of the Stars of Night: This 7th Century hymn was translated from Latin into English by John Mason Neale, the famous “hymnographer” or translator and adapter of ancient and medieval hymns. We have him to thank for preserving for us so many of the ancient treasures of the Church — such as this one. He writes “That treasury [of ancient hymns], into which the saints of every age and country … poured their contributions, delighting, each in his generation, to express their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, in language which would be the heritage of their Holy Mother [the Church] until the end of time — those noble hymns which had solaced .. monks in their cells, priests in bearing up against the burden and heat of the day, missionaries in girding themselves for martyrdom — [must never] become as a sealed book and as a dead letter.” And thanks to John Mason Neale the Church today still sings many, many of these treasures. A few of the hymns that we have preserved from antiquity thanks to him include: All Glory Laud and Honor, Alleluia Song of Gladness, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain, From God the Father Virgin Born, Good Christian Friends Rejoice, Good King Winceslas, Jerusalem the Golden, O Come O Come Emmanuel, O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be, Of the Father’s Love Begotten, That Eastertide with Joy was Bright, When Christ’s Appearing Was Made Known.

Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending: This glorious hymn fully puts into words all of the meaning of this First Sunday in Advent: 1) Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Once for favored sinners slain; Thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of His train: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Christ the Lord returns to reign. 2) Ev’ry eye shall now behold Him robed in glorious majesty; Those who set at nought and sold Him, pierced and nailed Him to the tree, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, shall their true Messiah see. 3) Those dear tokens of His Passion still His dazzling body bears, Cause of endless exultation to His ransomed worshipers. With what rapture, with what rapture, with what rapture gaze we on those glorious scars. 4) Yea, amen, let all adore Thee, high on Thine eternal throne; Savior, take the pow’r and glory, Claim the kingdom as Thine own. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! Thou shalt reign, and Thou alone!

I can, of course, understand why children want to skip Advent and go straight to Christmas. As my own son said once, “Oh, I love December! Jesus has a birthday and we all get presents!” As St Paul reminds us, “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, I reasoned as a child; but now that I am an adult …”We adult Christians know how very much we do need to prepare for that Coming for which we yearn and at which we will be judged and held accountable for the way we have spent our lives. And this time, that Coming for which we adults yearn has no crucifixion as part of it. Not this time.

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