And here we are again. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Or at least, it is leading up to it.
But even here where I serve, where we enjoy a history of Advent services and (if I may say so) pride ourselves on being an evangelical church that really takes to Advent, there seems to actually be pretty low tolerance for the hymns of Advent. We mostly want to spend the month in Christmas, hymnically. And why won’t the choir sing more carols, anyway?
We have our favorite Advent hymns, which we dole out between the first 2 Sundays of the season. (I alternate their appearance from year to year … that’s how we keep from getting into a liturgical rut.) Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. I can slip in Joy to the World because people think it is a Christmas hymn. (Ha ha!) We’ve flirted with some standard great Advent hymns – Savior of the Nations, Come; O Lord, how shall I meet you?. And if Advent 1 falls on the last Sunday of November we can even get away with Timothy Dudley-Smith’s He Comes to Us as One Unknown. (Did he intend this as an Advent hymn? It functions as such, perfectly.)
But I have learned that pastorally, at a very important level, there is an emotional need for this congregation to sing Christmas hymns, songs, and carols, through the season. Please, don’t even get me started about “educating the congregation” in this matter. I have painted the picture rather bleaker than it actually is. The reality is that we poke away at these things little by little.
But here, in this private/public space, I can revel in Advent hymns; and as I have already referenced him, let me take you to Timothy Dudley-Smith
He Comes to Us as One Unknown
He comes to us as one unknown,
A breath unseen, unheard;
As though within a heart of stone,
Or shriveled seed in darkness sown,
A pulse of being stirred.
He comes when souls in silence lie
And thoughts of day depart;
Half-seen upon the inward eye,
A falling star across the sky
Of night within the heart.
He comes to us in sound of seas,
The ocean’s fume and foam;
Yet small and still up on the breeze,
A wind that stirs the tops of trees,
A voice to call us home.
He comes in love as once he came
By flesh and blood and birth;
To bear within our mortal frame
A life , a death, asaving Name,
For ev’ry child of earth.
He comes in truth when faith is grown;
Believed, obeyed, adored;
The Christ in all the Scriptures shown,
As yet unseen but not unknown,
Our Savior and our Lord.
© 1984 Hope Publishing Co.