Sing 10: Modern Arrangements for Advent
This service is the first in a series titled “Sing 10,” which highlights services in which 10 or more songs are sung. Sometimes it will be in the form of the traditional hymn festival, but in this case it is a worship service with many options for congregational song in a more modern genre. What will set these articles apart from other services is that we will include lead sheets or full scores to a few of the songs as well as background or performance suggestions where applicable.
This is where it all begins. During Advent the formative rhythms of the church year place us in a posture of waiting and expectation. Those of us involved in facilitating worship know the value of grounding a local church in thoughtful, singable, and diverse congregational songs. This is an opportunity for a fresh start, a new commitment to modeling a healthy worship diet.
In these weeks leading up to Advent, I am reminded of the tunes and texts that have encouraged my own heart to embrace the patience that is a companion to waiting. From the contemporary refrain of Steve Bell’s “Ready My Heart” to the haunting ancient pleas of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” these songs, and the Scriptures at their core, are yearly reminders that waiting is part of our Christian vocation. Learning to live between the two advents is the task of Christian discipleship. It is our mission to carefully present these themes before the hearts and minds of those whom we lead in worship.
And what a privilege it is to live into this mystery of our faith! Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. It is the “will come again” part that we focus on during Advent. In rehearsing the expectations of Israel we remind ourselves that, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” During Advent we embrace the anticipation of Israel, making it our own and reaffirming the Christian longing for the renewal of all things at the second Advent. By embracing the story of Israel’s longing, we embrace our own longing for Christ’s return, and we are filled with wonder at the thought that our Creator “took a manger as His throne.”
Those of us who plan worship have been given a bold prophetic task: leading others to consider such grand claims in the midst of the pain we see and experience. We are still groaning for our redemption even as we are being shaped by the “blessed hope” of Christ’s return (Titus 2:11). Our Advent worship is a formative reminder to live self-controlled and peaceful lives in the midst of “the present age.” Let’s not miss the opportunity. Every election cycle we are tempted to place our hope and trust in politicians and referendums, but the Church calls us to temper our trust in princes and return to a posture of waiting and renewed hope. Waiting and anticipation are fulfilled only when the world’s true King comes again to take his throne.
Bathed in a graceless status quo, a watching world is prone to marvel at the sober Christian hope that inspires lovingkindness. In this sense, careful worship planning is an act of evangelism—a signpost to the alternative reality of the gospel.
As worship leaders, we need to ensure that the main contours of the gospel are embedded in both the content and form of our worship. Here are more than ten tested songs and links to recordings and/or lead sheets that reflect the themes of Advent and are arranged in the historic four-fold form. A few alternate options and brief litanies are also included. You may note that many of the songs are based on traditional hymns, and we have provided hymnal numbers for those in addition to links for more modern arrangements.
“Certainly hope is very necessary for us in our exile. It is what consoles us on the journey. When the traveler, after all, finds it wearisome walking along, he puts up with the fatigue precisely because he hopes to arrive. Rob him of any hope of arriving, and immediately his strength for walking is broken. So the hope also which we have here is part and parcel of the justice of our exile and our journey.” —St. Augustine
Call to Worship
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
Jesus Christ is our life and light.
In Christ’s name and in his power, let us worship God!
—based on Isaiah 9:2, NIV
“Jesus Comes with Clouds Descending” (Holy City Hymns) WR 318
“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” (Traditional/contemporary arrangement with guitar chord chart) LUYH 56, PH 2, PsH 329, SWM 83, TH 196, WR 153, GTG 82
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
As we journey in this season of Advent,
may the love of God the Father, and the grace of Jesus
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with
Our Greeting/Passing God’s Peace
Song of Praise
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (Sandra McCracken) LUYH 109, PFAS 440, PsH 72, SNC 120, TH 311
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (Welcome Wagon)
“He Has Done Great Things” (Magnificat)
Lighting the Advent Candle
Speaker 1: Lighting a candle in the darkness helps us find our way. In darkness we lose direction. We cannot see where we have been or where we are going. A single candle, flickering brightly, helps us find our way again.
Speaker 2: “Stir up your might, and come to save us. Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:2b-3).
The first candle is lit.
Speaker 3: Light one candle; see it glow
Brightly, so that all may know
How one candle shows the way
Making our darkness bright as God’s day.
Speaker 4: Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
All: Dear God, on this first Sunday in Advent, let this light shine brightly as the days grow shorter, so that we will be ready for your face to shine upon us at Christmas. In the Savior’s name we pray. Amen.
—text from RCA Readings for Advent (https://www.rca.org/resources/adventgathering) Reformed Church Press, 475 Riverside Drive, New York, NY, 10115, USA. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Song of Response
“Dawning Light of Our Salvation” (contemporary folk, Luke 1:68-79; 3:4-6)
“Christ Child’s Coming” (simple children’s song, ideal for preschoolers or early elementary age)
“The Lord Has Come to Dwell” (Modern Advent Hymn)
Confession and Assurance
Song of Preparation
“Come, Oh Redeemer, Come” (Fernando Ortega)
Prayer of Confession and Lament
Lord, remember us.
Have regard for your covenant.
We need your redemption.
Where hands have brought about destruction, desolation, and desecration,
where words have condemned, betrayed, and deceived,
where silence has concealed, isolated, and ignored—
O come, Emmanuel.
Shine light in the dark places,
Speak peace in the lands haunted by violence,
And ransom your people.
As we remember
Your steadfast love and faithfulness,
We wait expectantly;
We rejoice in your coming.
—LUYH 62 (Text: Melissa Haupt, 2012)
Assurance of Pardon
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
People of God, through the coming of Jesus Christ,
whose birth we celebrate,
the Lord has comforted and redeemed us!
In Christ we receive the salvation of our God.
Glory to God in the highest!
—based on Isaiah 52:9-10; Luke 2:14, NIV
Song of Response
“Advent Gloria” (contemporary chamber pop)
“Advent Gloria” is based on the Castle Island Hymns song “Gloria,” found on their 2014 Christmas album. With permission from the composer we shortened the song and added lyrics based on Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1. https://castleislandhymns.bandcamp.com/album/christmas
Hearing God’s Word
Song of Preparation
“Come Light Our Hearts” (modern folk by Sandra McCracken)
Scripture and Sermon
“Come Light Our Hearts” written by Sandra McCracken was released in 2015 on a compilation of children’s songs for Advent entitled Waiting Songs by Rain for Roots (https://rainforroots.bandcamp.com/). A theologically astute text and a wonderfully singable melody make this tune easily adaptable for congregational use or special music.
Table and Response
Song of Response: Intercession and Lament
“Wait for the Lord” (Taizé) LUYH 480, SNC 96, WR 166, GTG 90
“In Labor All Creation Groans” (Bifrost Arts) SNC 270
“How Long?” (Bifrost Arts)
Song of Response/Prayer of Dedication
“Jesus, the Light of the World” (early American gospel song) LUYH.100-101
“Prepare the Way” (Taizé) LUYH 58
Song During Communion
“Savior of the Nations, Come” LUYH 74, PsH 336, WR 168, GTG 102
Song for use as Sanctus during the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving
“Advent Sanctus” (tune: “Angels from the Realms of Glory”)
Angels from the realms of glory,
wing your flight o’er all the earth:
ye who sang creation’s story, now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Holy, holy, God of glory. Glory to the Lord Most High.
All creation, join in praising God the Father, Spirit, Son;
evermore your voices raising to th’e-ternal three in One.
Holy, holy, God of glory. Glory to the Lord Most High.
The text of “Savior of the Nations, Come” was written by Ambrose in the 4th century. It experienced a resurgence in popularity during the reformations of the 16th century, was set to the corresponding tune by Erfurt Enchiridia in 1524, and was first translated into English by William Reynolds in 1851. This haunting modern folk arrangement by Bruce Benedict highlights the ancient beauty of these words using Calvin Seerveld’s translation from the 1984 Psalter Hymnal.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.
May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful; he will do it. (1 Thess. 5:23-24)
Song of Sending
“All Things New” (contemporary retuned hymn)
“Nunc Dimittis (Song of Simeon)” (contemporary)