When I was in high school, I played in the concert band. Performances were always a time of anticipation. There was the merest amount of performance anxiety, but there was also a heaping portion of excitement. When the moment arrived—following the noisy of sounds of people tuning their instruments or playing scales that my band teacher called “noodling”—I found myself holding my breath. Of course, I played a wind instrument so that was part of it, but also just the anticipation of the moment when the director raised his arms, baton in hand, and his hands hung suspended in air for just a fraction of a moment in time, and we all responded in unison our instruments at the ready. Our knowing the music that followed from hours of rehearsal, its swells and times of silence, seemed to be secondary to that moment of anticipation.
Advent is that moment in time, suspended, waiting. We collectively hold our breaths, and we wait. It is a time of anticipation; a time of excitement. We should not rush past this moment in the secular understanding of the Christmas season which begins earlier and earlier each year. It is a time to pause, and we should savor it.
Because music is such an important part of life, because the Advent hymns are beautiful (if often not singable), and because they often get swept away in our rush to Christmas carols, I am writing about the Music of Advent. I hope it is something that blesses you this Advent season as we pause, holding our breaths in anticipation and excitement, and just for a minute or two each day, observe a pregnant moment of silence and reflection.
Join me on an Advent journey as told by the writers of the hymns and songs found in our hymnals and other songbooks of the Christian faith. While the destination is beautiful—the birth of the Prince of Peace—the journey is not to be dismissed.
Rev. Dr. Sonja Tobey
First Sunday of Advent – Psalm 65
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley, 1744
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
We begin the Advent journey with a prayer—a plea for the coming of the One who would free God’s people, heal the sick and liberate the oppressed, the fore-told Messiah. God enfleshed and living among us and with us that we may come to know God in a human way—a God who can relate to humanity as we never understood before. This prayer is the inhalation of breath just before we hold it for a moment. It literally takes our breath away.
As you begin Advent, do you find that you are holding your breath? Waiting. Perhaps the waiting is one of anticipation of good things to come—family gatherings, church activities, communities events, parties. Or perhaps the waiting is one of dread—memories of loved ones gone, of bouts of depression or anxiety, fear of the future, pain. Maybe we even have a little of both anticipation and dread as the Advent season begins.
Advent is a time of prayer, a prayer of petition for all that troubles us and a prayer of praise for all that blesses us. This prayer has been echoed throughout all time, from the beginning of Creation to the end of our existence—Come, Lord come. Show us the Divine, that we may reflect God’s glory, even in the midst of troubled or joyous lives.
The psalmist, the singer of songs of praise and petition, writes in Psalm 124, a tale of remembrance of God’s provision of salvation in the turmoil of life. Much like we anticipation the saving work of God through the Christ, the one who delivers. Let us remember as we begin this season of waiting...
By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. Psalm 65:5