In the season of Advent, we wait and long for the coming of Jesus. In the darkness of our lives, in the pain of our communities and world, Christ comes to bring light, give life, and offer true fulfillment for all those desires and longings. The following five songs are some that our worshiping community at Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan, has grooved into our spirits as we enter into the Advent/Incarnation story of God with us.
Video and chord chart available at proskuneo.org
This wonderful tune by Jaewoo Kim and the group Proskuneo is not necessarily an Advent song, but the themes of longing resonate through every lyric and melody. From the Proskuneo website: “It is a song of trust in the darkest, most challenging times in our lives. ‘Yes, Lord, we choose to trust you.’”
During Advent we focus on the light that is coming. We dwell on Jesus, the light that shines in the darkness and the light that the darkness can never put out. As we acknowledge the light, we also name the darkness that is present in our lives, in our communities, and in our world. There are so many painful realities that we face, and our Advent journey is strengthened by spending some significant time in that darkness—not to wallow, but to move toward hope and trust, actively moving toward the light in faith.
The beauty of this song and of Proskuneo as an ensemble is that there is always the opportunity to sing these songs in several different languages. This song offers verses in Korean, Spanish, and English. Even if there are no native speakers of these languages in your congregation, you can carefully and accurately lead this song with clear phonetic pronunciations available from the chord charts on Proskuneo’s website.
Liturgically, this song could work well after a spoken prayer of longing or lament. After naming our hopes, pains, fears, and longings before God, we can join together to sing “Lord, I believe you’re working in my life.”
“Waiting on Your Word”
Acoustic demo recording available at bit.ly/waitingonyourword
“Waiting on Your Word” is a song by Michigan worship pastor Noah McLaren. Sometimes in planning for the big seasons of the church, I find a desire and need for more songs that fit within specific liturgical moments. What I love about this song is that, while written for the Advent season, it purposefully and imaginatively incorporates language of a prayer for illumination. This song holds together the depth and reality of our waiting while also fully expecting that God still speaks to us in the midst of it all. That is one of the core movements of Christian worship: We, God’s children, often flail about in our sin, pain, and unfulfilled hopes, and yet, God comes. God speaks. God acts. Advent adds yet another layer of meaning to that movement.
I’m particularly struck by the second stanza:
Thirsting for your truth in harsh and evil times,
our mouths wide open,
we are brittle clay that cracks under the heat
until the great rains come.
Christ, come soon to us;
Lord, draw near to us.
This song is at its best with a minimal instrumental arrangement. A strong piano lead with a softly picked acoustic guitar is more than suitable. The entire melody could be sung by a congregation, but it is also quite effective to have a soloist sing the verses with the congregation invited to sing the “Christ, come soon to us / Lord, draw near to us” refrain. I have also enjoyed extracting just that refrain and singing it interspersed with prayers or Scripture. An interesting pairing is to break up the prologue of John 1 into three or four sections and to sing the refrain several times throughout that reading.
“For God Alone (Psalm 62)”
This newer setting of Psalm 62 is from Brendan Jamieson, Isaac Wardell, and Paul Zach. These psalm verses are set in a beautifully meditative way. The slower, waltzy pace of the accompaniment allows for the opening verse’s “For God alone my soul in silence waits” to sink deep into your spirit as you sing, and there is space to more fully engage with the song’s lyrics. The phrases are drawn out, but not in a way that makes you want to pick up the tempo. The effect on the singer and congregation is a truly prayerful posture of singing.
In the recorded version of the song from Zach’s short album “God Is the Friend of Silence,” there are wonderful three-part harmonies. The melody is very singable for most congregations, and with other strong vocalists leading, the vocal harmonies add a richness and intensity to the music that you simply have to sing in order to experience. It is quite an emotive song. The melody itself seems to lead the singer into the active process of waiting and longing. It’s not a passive experience. As the song builds toward the final chorus, it gathers momentum and develops an energy that helps us experience that waiting hurts and longing is hard. By entering into the words and melodies of this song, we experience a deeper Advent, a fuller experience of longing for the Messiah.
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus”
Acoustic demo recording available at bit.ly/comethoulongexpectedjesus
Charles Wesley’s great hymn might be the most jam-packed Advent song there is. In just two verses, he explores the deep longing of the Christian faith. The signposts along this short journey come from big nouns and verbs like “fear,” “sin,” “freedom,” “deliver,” and “kingdom.” These words lead us into a mode of longing and waiting in the grand, perhaps cosmic sense. The Christian carries both personal longings and hopes for restoration, healing, forgiveness, and all the things that are not right with our hearts and lives, but Wesley’s words draw us into broader country. Of course, the great, grand saving and healing plays out in individual lives and stories, but this mode of longing acknowledges that there is a baseline of sin, pain, and need that all of humanity (and even the earth) shares.
This hymn could work almost anywhere in the worship service: as an opening hymn, as a song of preparation to hear God’s Word, or as a sending song. The fundamental themes of Advent shine through wherever you might place this song. I’ve found HYFRYDOL to be a suitable tune for evoking the sound and emotions of longing as we sing. Its standard four-part harmony in most hymnals is so fantastic it doesn’t need touching, but there is also a lot of room in an ensemble setting to explore new harmonic avenues that clearly bring out the text’s mood. In our worship context, we have enjoyed an arrangement that moves a little into the relative minor key and creates a bit of space between each phrase of the melody. This is a method that works for many, but certainly not all, strophic hymns. It is something that some friends and I like to call “folk breaks”: a brief instrumental interlude of three or four measures to provide a break in the melody that can serve as musical and/or textual emphasis. You can see the “folk breaks” in the music on page 16.
“Come Light Our Hearts”
Music is available for purchase as part of the songbook Waiting Songs at rainforroots.com.
This is a wonderful song written by Sandra McCracken and performed by the ensemble Rain for Roots that uniquely provides space for children to participate. Several times over the years we have used this song with a children’s choir and with dance. The lyrics of the refrain are from Psalm 62, with verses drawn from other psalms and parts of the O Antiphons. It is a simple A-B structure that settles into the fullness of Advent in using colloquial English. There are some wonderfully plain (in a good way) lines, such as “In you we find more than enough” and “We come as we are; O heal and restore.” If your Advent song diet consists of other lines like “O Come, thou key of David, come” and “Let all mortal flesh keep silence,” it’s helpful to sometimes bring our formal sung language back down to earth. What a fitting way to celebrate the coming incarnation! This is not only a children’s song, however. There is a depth to this song that sinks deeper in each time you hear it and sing along. The melodic rhythm is stunningly consistent throughout the song, adding to the meditative and prayerful mood as you sing.
This song works with many different arrangements: solo guitar, solo piano, a big ensemble with strings. I encourage incorporating three-part vocal harmony on the chorus. It adds such a rich texture. In our community, we have often used this song as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. There is a lightness and a celebratory feeling to the song despite its depth.
The arrangement ends with the repeating line “Truly our hope is in you; truly our hope is in you.” As we celebrate Advent, as we bring to worship all the things we wait for and all the things we long for, we insist on the hope and joy that has come in Jesus. Jesus is the one we wait for. Jesus is the one that fulfills all our longings. Truly our hope is in him.