Advent Themes

I spent last weekend in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, attending Christmasfest and getting in some good (and much-needed) family time in a city that I love almost as much as I love Chicago. While there, I went to a Friday chapel service (an offering in song led by one of the St. Olaf women's choirs), Christmasfest, a Christmas concert performed by The Singers, and Sunday worship in Boe chapel (led by the St. Olaf Band). It is amazing the Advent themes that emerged - the texts and songs that showed up in more than one of these events.

The Christmasfest theme was based on the the Magnificat (and its contemporary adaptation in the Canticle of the Turning). The Magnificat is also the core text of this January's Bach for the Sem, in which I will be singing. So for me, Advent and the Christmas season are bookended by this text, which connects the advent of Christ with the advent of justice and the wideness of God's love and mercy:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed;
the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.
He has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm
and has scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good thing
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember his promise of mercy,
The promise made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
In waiting for Christ, we are not called to be idle. We instead are called to proclaim the wonders of what God has done and is doing and will do. The Christmasfest theme, "My Spirit Sings of Wondrous Things," reminds us that when God breaks into our human existence, the world is turned upside down - God's coming to us changes us and our world. And therefore we are called to sing songs of hope and joy, to be a part of the ways that God is shaping and changing and preparing our world.

The other text that, surprisingly, showed up multiple times this weekend, was a text written by John Milton, "At a Solemn Music":
Blest pair of sirens, pledges of heaven's joy,
Sphere-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Verse,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixed power employ
Dead things with inbreathed sense able to pierce,
And to our high-raised phantasy present,
That undisturbed song of pure content,
Ay sung before the sapphire-coloured throne
To him that sits theron
With saintly shout, and solemn jubilee,
Where the bright seraphim in burning row
Their loud uplifted angel trumpets blow,
And the cherubic host in thousand choirs
Touch their immortal harps of golden wires,
With those just spirits that wear victorious palms,
Hymns devout and holy psalms
Singing everlastingly;
That we on earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportioned sin
Jarred against nature's chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair music that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion swayed
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep in tune with heaven, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endless morn of light.
For me, the whole poem evokes the mood of the angels, singing Gloria to the shepherds and rejoicing at the birth of Christ. But more than that, the last few lines of the poem urge us to wait this Advent, not with fear or boredom, but with energy and anticipation! They speak of how our songs on earth foreshadow our songs in heaven; how our waiting in Advent is no different than our waiting for God's final restoration of the earth at Christ's return. And this waiting is not in vain: we wait for the hope that we already have, we wait in faith for what our eyes have not yet seen but that we have yet witnessed, we wait with joy for our future joy!

So may we, this Advent, make these words of Milton our prayer: "O may we soon again renew that song, and keep in tune with heaven, till God ere long to his celestial consort us unite, to live with him, and sing in endless morn of light!"

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