Most hymnbooks that I’ve seen only include stanzas 1, 6 and 9 of this classic carol, but there are many other excellent verses that should be highlighted during Advent and Christmas. Here are my favorite four to sing during this time of year.
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!
He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!
O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!
This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!
Monday: Isaiah 8:16-9:1, Luke 22:39-53, 2 Peter 1:1-11
Tuesday: Isaiah 9:1-7, Luke 22:54-69, 2 Peter 1:12-21
Wednesday: Isaiah 9:8-17, Mark 1:1-8, 2 Peter 2:1-10
Thursday: Isaiah 9:18-10:4, Matthew 3:1-12, 2 Peter 2:10-16
Friday: Isaiah 10:5-19, Matthew 11:2-15, 2 Peter 2:17-22
Saturday: Isaiah 10:20-27, Luke 3:1-9, Jude 17-25
Monday: Isaiah 5:8-12,18-23, Luke 21:20-28, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
Tuesday: Isaiah 5:13-17,24-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Luke 21:29-38.
Wednesday: Isaiah 6:1-13, 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12, Matthew 6:6-15.
Thursday: Isaiah 7:1-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, Luke 22:1-13.
Friday: Isaiah 7:10-25, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5, John 8:34-36.
Saturday: Isaiah 8:1-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-18, Luke 22:31-38.
There is a distinction in the way different Protestant groups teach during the Advent season. For many (and it won’t take much of an imagination to figure out who), Christmas is something that must be prepared for, much in the same way we must prepare for the Lord’s Table. For others, Christmas is something to be celebrated. As in most things, neither group gives us a satisfactory position.
He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.
– Rowan Williams
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 floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.
Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
With Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.
The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.
This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.
O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!
See this post by Bob Rudis for more on this carol.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is one of my favorite Advent hymns. Although it could also be used as an Easter hymn, and was originally used for the Eucharist, I believe it fits perfectly in with Advent.
The lyrics you are used to are a bit different, but I like the above video.
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.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.
At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!
Words: Liturgy of Saint James (fifth century);
trans. Gerald Moultrie (1829-1885), 1864
For as long as humans have been able to write (or draw on cave walls), we have expressed our discomfort with the darkness. Not only is it symbolic of death, but it hides what we fear the most. Darkness is, in a sense, representative of our alienation from God.
When our ancestral parents were cast from the garden, we were all cast into darkness. The light which once guided our path was severely diminished. Life, as we folllow it’s ebb and flow, peaks and valleys, can often be nothing more than a transition from the darkness of the womb to the darkness of death.
It is from darkness that God created the world and from darkness that he sent his son. The light of the world came at the exact moment we needed him, when all seemed lost and defeat immanent.
When the enemy was at the gates, preparing to utterly destroy us, God sent his champion. He did not send an army, or a warrior of Goliath’s stature; instead he sent a poor baby born in embarassing conditions.
We may still fear the darkness, but because of Christmas it holds no power against us.
In just a few days a new Church year will begin (for Western churches) with the season of Advent. Since I’ve been writing about Advent for four years, I don’t feel the need to introduce it, but it will be the focus of the blog over the next month. (As if I’ve been writing about anything else.)
Advent is important to me because it serves as the antidote to the spectacle of Christmas in the United States. For far too long, Christians and Churches have focused on presents, lights, Santa Claus, and the culture war while completely ignoring the reason for the season (used ironically, of course). Advent and Christmas are about the birth of Jesus Christ into a dark world, the emergence of the creator at the exact point the world needed him, and the promise of a return that will set the world to rights. Shopping, manger scenes in public spaces, and drunken office parties pale in comparison to the reality of Christmas.
When I see ads for circus shows (literally) at local churches, I know the modern evangelical church needs Advent. When I hear my kids, and myself, constantly talk about presents and what to get with gift cards, I know I need Advent. When the world seems to be in constant darkness, I know I need Advent.