The season of advent is a season of preparation and anticipation as we look back to Jesus’ first arrival at Christmas and await His promised return. It’s also the season that kicks off the church year. It’s a very important season, though it is often overshadowed by the celebration of Christmas.
Advent is still an important season for the modern church to observe as it prepares our hearts for the reason for the celebration that follows: Jesus Christ coming into the world to be our Savior.
The Advent Wreath
Advent wreaths are popular in traditional churches, but many modern or contemporary churches have abandoned the practice. While we often think of them as being in church, they actually began in the home as a devotional tool for families. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that they became widely used in churches.
The colors of the candles have changed over the years too. One book I have written around 1960 states that if the wreath is to be used in a church, the candles should be white. Later, it was common to use three purple and one pink with a white Christ candle; purple being a color of royalty. Today, it is common to use blue candles instead of purple because blue represents hope which is very much the spirit of the season.
Each week for the four Sundays before Christmas, another candle is lit. The lighting of the candles symbolize the age before the coming of Christ, when the light of prophecy about Jesus became brighter and brighter until Jesus came and said “I am the light of the world.”
We reintroduced the advent wreath at Journey a few years ago and we encourage families to setup their own at home. We give out a devotional book for everyone to use at home throughout the season.
These days with radio stations playing Christmas music starting in November and stores putting up Christmas displays in October, it’s no wonder that churches often bypass the music of advent in favor of Christmas music. And why not?! There’s some great Christmas music out there! Not to mention the sentimentality that goes along with that music!
Advent music, by comparison to Christmas music, is much more mellow and reflective – even sorrowful/mournful. While there are a few that have retained popularity, such as O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, there are many others gems waiting to be rediscovered by the modern church.
While the lyrics to many of these hymns would fit right in with a modern worship style, some of the melodies might need to be rewritten.
- Come Down, O Love Divine – Fernando Ortega has probably the most well-known version of this hymn. It’s a shame that it’s not more widely known, because it’s really quite beautiful.
- Come Thou Long Expected Jesus – Several great versions of this song exist. We’ve used Red Mountain Church’s, Chris Tomlin’s, and one from iWorship. A new version that I’d like to try is from Marcy Priest.
- Come, Thou Precious Ransom Come – This is one that could do really well with a new melody.
- Comfort, Comfort Ye My People – This song, based on Isaiah 40:1-8, is another that could use a modern melody.
- O Come, O Come Emmanuel – If there’s one Advent song that has made it big, it’s this one. There are several great arrangements today. We’ve used Frank Ralls‘ arrangement the last few years. Paul Baloche’s arrangement is another good one for congregational worship.
- Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending – Instead of focusing on looking back to Jesus’ first coming, it turns us to His future return.
- Hark the Glad Sound
- Savior of the Nations, Come
- The Advent of Our King
Modern Advent Songs
Modern worship songs have tended to focus more on Christmas than Advent. However, in recent years there have been some new songs that fit very well in the Advent season. Along with those specifically written for Advent, songs that have a theme of waiting or expectation, or that emphasize the coming or return of Jesus are especially appropriate.
- Light of the World – Lauren Daigle’s song is probably one of my favorite new Advent songs in a long time.
- Waiting Here for You – Christy Nockles can always be counted on for a solid, epic ballad.
- Sing to the King – This song‘s emphasis on the return of Jesus brings us back to the other side of Advent.
- Unto Us – Hillsong’s rendition of Isaiah 9:6 is simple, straightforward, and accessible.
- Wonderful Maker – This song artfully connects creation to re-creation as Jesus came to earth to restore.