A hymn for Advent


Coventry Chorale is rehearsing for a traditional Advent Service of Lessons and Carols at Grace Episcopal Church in Ponca City. (5 p.m., Sunday, December 14.) Tonight we rehearsed a hymn for Advent that was new to most of the singers but was well-received for its text and lyrics.

Here is the first verse:

The people who in darkness walked
have seen a glorious light;
on them broke forth the heav'nly dawn
who dwelt in death and night.

It is a metrical paraphrase of Isaiah 9:2-7 by John Morison (1749-1798), set to the tune Dundee, from the Scottish Psalter of 1615. The text, as altered in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, is here. An evidently older version, perhaps closer to the original, is in the 1961 Trinity Hymnal. The original seems to be here, in the Scottish Psalter and Paraphrases. (CyberHymnal also has that version.)

What I like about this song is that it is truly a hymn for the Advent season, not just a Christmas carol we sing early. It is a paraphrase of a prophecy of the coming Messiah. It expresses a central theme of Advent -- the contrast between the darkness and light -- between the darkness of mankind's rebellion against God and the light of Christ, which has pierced the darkness. Each night as our family lights the Advent candles we read the passage from Isaiah 9, as part of a devotional prepared by our pastor. Now we can sing it as well.

Advent is mostly forgotten or observed as an extended Christmastide. Traditionally, Advent was a penitential season, like Lent, signified by the liturgical use of purple, in contrast to the white of Easter and Christmas. Advent is a time to reflect on our own brokenness and sinfulness, to renew our yearning for redemption and reconciliation with God, a time to retrospectively look forward with the saints of the Old Testament, longing for the redemption which came in Christ's first advent, and a time to look forward to the consummation of all things and our ultimate deliverance from sin and death at our Lord's second advent. Advent is a time to build up an appetite, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, so that we can properly appreciate our hunger's fulfillment in the miracle of the Incarnation.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 4, 2003 11:54 PM.

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