It’s called Advent, people, and it’s crucial to our understanding of Christmas.
In Advent, we put ourselves in the place of the faithful who had waited generations for their promised King. Our four-week period of hope and expectation encapsulates the longing and yearning into which Jesus finally, miraculously arrived. Advent slows us down and restores our hearts and minds so that the heaven-born Prince of Peace can be fully born in our hearts once again.
People of God, take time to ponder anew the mysterious reality of the Incarnation. Allow yourselves to feel the emptiness, and allow it to be filled with joyous hope in the coming Messiah, through whom all of creation would be made whole. Christmas may come but once a year, but the discipline of Advent can allow the incarnational reality to take root in our lives, and to mold us and make us into the church we’re called to be.
I’ve heard a lot of talk recently of people doing their Christmas decorating early this year, saying they need the season all the more in this strange, extraordinarily difficult year. I can understand that. But I think instead of giving into the commercial trappings of the season, we need even more to allow ourselves to experience the beauty and discipline of the Advent season. Really enter into it, feel the paucity, pray and make room. We need Jesus more than ever, so start preparing.
Here are some hymns you should sing before you even think about the usual Christmas fare.
Lo! he comes with clouds descending
Charles Wesley, 1758
Creator of the stars of night
7th-century Latin hymn, trans. J.M. Neale, 1852
Come, thou long-expected Jesus
Charles Wesley, 1744
O come, O come Emmanuel
c. 8th century, trans. J.M. Neale, 1861
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Charles Coffin, trans. John Chandler
Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding
Latin hymn, 5th c., trans. Edward Caswall
Comfort, comfort, ye my people
Johannes Olearius, 1671, trans. Catherine Winkworth
Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates
Georg Weissel, 1642, trans. Catherine Winkworth
Rejoice, rejoice, believers!
Laurentius Laurenti, 1700, trans. Sarah Laurie Borthwick Findlater
Hark! the glad sound! the Savior comes
Philip Doddridge, 1735
O Word that goest forth on high
7th century Latin, trans. The Hymnal 1940
Watchman, tell us of the night
John Bowring, 1825
Tell Out, My Soul
Timothy Dudley-Smith, 1962
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
Kathleen Thomerson, 1970
Savior of the nations, come
St. Ambrose, 4th cent.; trans. William M. Reynolds
The King shall come when morning dawns
John Brownlie, 1907
Also, here is an online resource to help you figure out when Christmas has actually arrived.