by Pastor Barb
The writer Aldous Huxley said, “After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” Hymns and choral music are at the heart of Lutheran tradition. When mere words are not enough, raising our voices together in song elevates our words into art and prayer, and sends them heavenward. Most of the time, Lutheran hymns are strong on praise, recounting the history of God’s work, giving thanks, and testifying to God’s faithfulness and our own efforts to be faithful.
When Advent begins, the music takes a sudden turn, to a minor key. The plaintive cries of “O Come, Emanuel” reveal our yearning, our need, and our hope. We revisit God’s promises, as foretold by the prophets, of a messiah, a savior, and we cry out to God to see that promise fulfilled. “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.”
These days, we might feel that need more than ever, because our world sometimes seems to be spinning out of control.
I love the music of Advent, especially the “O Antiphons,” from which the verses of “O Come Emanuel” are drawn. The antiphons are centuries old, and in some traditions are recited as prayers each day in the last week of Advent. Each begins with “O”, which adds to our sense of urgency and desperation in crying out for a savior. Each uses a different title for Jesus, and so they remind us of all that God will do through Christ, when he comes. Each ends with an “ask”: “Stretch out your hand; show us the way; lead us to freedom.” For me, singing these in a minor key conveys the sense that we, too, “mourn in lonely exile here,” as we yearn for the promised messiah.
Advent is a wonderful time for daily devotions. Consider praying these O Antiphons each day from December 17 to 23. Find the verse of “O Come Emanuel” that draws on that day’s prayer. Then, ponder how God might already be actively at work, doing what we have asked for. Think about what you see in the world that might be signs of God’s activity. Share your thoughts with family. Invite the kids to participate. Have the neighbors over to talk. Advent is a time of active waiting. As we wait, we prepare ourselves for the time when the promise is fulfilled: for the coming of the Christ child.