Monday Muse: Carols in Advent

Growing up, the rule in my family was simple: no Christmas music before Thanksgiving. As a church pastor, I held onto that same value of honoring each season in its turn: no “Jesus is born” hymns during worship in Advent.

Truth be told, however, in my personal music spaces I don’t keep the liturgical seasons quite so separate. John Denver and the Muppets are already caroling from my car’s CD player. Mariah has me praising, “Jesus, Oh What a Wonderful Child” on the commute to work. And with Amy Grant, I’m longing for Tennessee as if it were my home state.

For me, Christmas carols in Advent are not an oxymoron. The out-of-season music reflects my impatient longing for peace and joy: not just the eagerness for holiday rest and family time, but truly the restlessness that a new day must be near, the birth of Peace needs to come soon. The world is groaning like a woman in labor, but Justice remains overdue! Singing a few early Christmas carols not only energizes my joy in Christ’s coming; it also reminds me that God, too, longs for the world’s restoration.

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So if you’re still scurrying to plan Advent worship services or your December sermon series (or if you’re looking for an excuse to listen to Christmas music a little early), consider incorporating carols into Advent — that’s right, out of season! Here are a few specific suggestions:

Advent 1, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”
Reflecting on the carol with the lectionary’s Isaiah 2:1-5, imagine the good news echoing down the mountain of the LORD, across valleys and through towns, from shepherd boy to king: lessons of wisdom to teach justice and songs of peace to unlearn the ways of war.

Advent 2, “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night”
The haunting hymn asks for a guide to help us see beauty even in the most frightening, most mysterious hours of night: a star shining gloriously, a child born amidst doubt. Partnered with the strident Matthew 3:1-12, the carol gives voice to hope when otherwise we might see and hear only our own fears.

Advent 3, “I Pray on Christmas”
Mary is singing (Luke 1:46b-55), the desert is singing (Isaiah 35:1-10), you had better do some joyful singing on the Third Sunday in Advent! If our own faith communities aren’t accustomed to clapping and toe-tapping, sometimes a guest soloist can help! Bring Harry Connick, Jr.’s “I Pray on Christmas” into worship as the Prayers of the People or the Postlude for an upbeat call to renewal.

Advent 4, “Carol of the Bells”
Listen to the carol with its lyrics chiming incessantly. The words are tolling bells, pealing like prayers without ceasing: “O LORD, how long will you refuse to hear your people’s prayers? Give us life as we call on your name!” (Psalm 80) As Christ’s coming nears, the echoes of our prayers swell: “Bring good cheer to young and old, to meek and bold! Ding, dong, ding, dong!”

3 thoughts on “Monday Muse: Carols in Advent

  1. Thank you for the idea with the songs. I help with the worship planning and your post gave me a few ideas for the coming weeks.

    On another note…it’s been a while since I posted a prayer poem. So much has happened and my mind has been everywhere. I am getting ready to leave Delaware for 5 days a week in January..for the next 3 years..to attend Lancaster Seminary. I am excited and nervous. I know you used to pastor a church in Lancaster..so any good tips on must see places and hidden gems are appreciated.

    • What exciting news, Suzanne! Congratulations! There are so many good people at LTS, great faculty and staff!

      I pastored Grace United Church of Christ just outside the city limits of Lancaster — a wonderful, authentic congregation. Definitely look them up.

      My “hidden gems” list is primarily food-related (heehee), including a Vietnamese restaurant on Lititz Pike and a Thai restaurant on Harrisburg Pike. 🙂

      Keep me posted, I’ll be excited to hear about this new journey in your life!

  2. Finally getting around to replying!! I will need to visit Grace UCC. I probably won’t make it home every Sunday and so I will need to find a temporary churches near there that I can visit. I think that is the hardest, to leave my church community here and my partner and my son in Delaware, but this is something I cannot run from – I tried but just kept bumping into The Lord putting Seminary back in front of my face. And when I went for Discovery Day, the people there were wonderful. I look forward to getting to know everybody.

    Food places are always good! Any favorite bookstores?

    When I drove up to the Seminary, I was amazed at how much the area reminded me of Germany, where I am from. I think I will love it though it may induce a little homesickness. Glad I have a trip to Germany planned in June.

    I am sure I will post a lot about my journey on my somewhat dormant blog. But I will keep you updated.

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