Advent

Advent Candles015I grew up in a church that didn’t talk about Advent. We were as far from liturgical as you could get. Later, when my family attended a non-denominational church, I suspect the thinking there was to steer clear of anything that would seem identifiably one denomination over another, so again, no incorporation of “Advent” into the celebration of Christmas.

Of course, Advent really means the coming of Christ. In its generic form, the word means the coming of any notable person, thing, or event. In it’s proper noun form, however, it’s specifically used in conjunction with Christianity.

This morning on the radio broadcast Family Life Today, the hosts and guests discussed some of the more notable Christmas traditions. Among those was Advent, referring specifically to the lighting of advent candles and the reading of particular scriptures.

The thing I learned was that the focus of Advent in an earlier age was threefold: the first coming of Christ, as a baby, the coming of Christ to individuals who accept Him as Messiah, and the second coming of Christ which we await.

I really like this focus. It takes Jesus out of the manger and declares Him to be a living and risen Savior who is coming again.

This threefold aspect of Jesus’s coming mirrors the Christian life. We have fulfillment, appropriation, and anticipation. Christ died once for all the just for the unjust (fulfillment), but those who believe will be saved (appropriation), and one day we will receive the reward of the inheritance (anticipation).

One of the hymns now associated with Advent is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I have to admit, I’ve paid little attention to the words of this hymn, though I could go on automatic pilot and sing the first verse.

As I looked for the rest of the words, I found a number of diverse listings. One gave five verses, another seven, and the one below, eight. None seem quite the same. Besides the obvious extra, or missing, stanzas, however you wish to look at it, their order is different and some of the lines are dissimilar. Yet more than one site claims the English is a translation from the 12th century Latin original.

Looking at the various versions, I can see the threefold meaning of Advent shining through. I’m not sure I’d like to sing all these verses–the music, after all, originated as a funeral dirge, and honestly gets on my nerves after a bit, with it’s heavy, repetitive monotony, all except the “Rejoice, rejoice” notes.

But the lyrics are equally heavy. This is no “Away in a Manger” or “Silent Night.” This is a song about captives in need of ransom, about exile and Satan’s tyranny and the salvation from the depths of hell.

Merry Christmas!

But really, it is a merry Christmas for those who believe. We celebrate Christ’s birth, not because He was a cute baby. We celebrate because at long last, after centuries of waiting, the promised Son and Savior came and comes and will come again.

Perhaps “Merry Christmas” isn’t quite right after all. Maybe a better greeting would be Joyous Advent. (I wonder what secularists would do with that one! 😉 )

And now the lyrics which you might want to compare with those that appear in Wikipedia.

O come, O come Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Refrain:
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

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Published in: on December 10, 2013 at 8:18 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 Comments

  1. Beautifully, beautifully, beautifully written, Becky!
    Thank you for ALL your posts.
    Len at Gloryteller.com

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  2. A Joyous Advent and Happy Christbirth to you!

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    • Thanks so much, Len! A joyous Advent to you, too. I appreciate your encouragement! May Christ fill you with His peace and good will this Christmas!

      Becky

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  3. Nifty! I hadn’t seen that version before. 🙂

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    • I REALLY liked this rendition of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” also, Cindy. It feels fresh and brings out the things that require us to need a Savior.

      Becky

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  4. Advent has been a fixture in the Christian Church for 1500 years, possibly longer.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is a hymnic version of the Great O Antiphons, which have been sung in the evening from December 17th through December 23rd, This has been a continual Advent practice in the Christian Church since at least the 8th Century.

    There are 7 O Antiphons, corresponding to the 7 days. The initial letters of the names, all Messianic attributes of Christ, also form a backwards acrostic in Latin:

    Sapientia
    Adonai
    Radix Jesse
    Clavis David
    Oriens
    Rex Gentium
    Emmanuel

    SARCORE, backwards, is “ERO CRAS”, meaning “Tomorrow, I will be”.

    It is very curious to me that many Christians don’t know how long-standing this observance has been in the Christian Church, just as they don’t know that the “12 Days of Christmas” are from December 25th to January 5th (The day before the Epiphany, and the last day of the Christmas.) Unlike in the commercial world, Christmas begins on the Eve of Christmas, and lasts 12 days. Advent is the “hurry up! – not yet” season of preparation before Christmas.

    It is actually my favorite season in the Church Year, and, ironically, when I feel most unprepared, even though preparation is an over-arching theme.

    A blessed Advent, indeed!

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    • Thanks for amplifying on this post, Cameron. It’s interesting to look into the history of our traditions, which is why that radio broadcast I mentioned was setting aside time to do so.

      Hope you have a joyous Advent!

      Becky

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  5. That Advent is not included in our Christmas celebrations is not the problem; the problem is that “Christmas” celebrations begin four weeks and more early, and have displaced Advent celebrations almost entirely.

    When I did a series of posts about “the three sides of Advent” on my blog last Advent, the three Advents I identified were the “First Advent” (thus the season’s placement just before Christmas, and the focus on preparation for that season), “Coming in Judgment” (I quoted Malachi 3, but the Old Testament is full of passages predicting that the Lord would visit judgment on his people and the nations, passages that in light of history we count as fulfilled prophecy), and “Coming in Glory.”

    In addition to “Joyous Advent,” once the Christmas season as such actually starts, I intend to use the ancient greeting I learned of last year: “Christ is born!” to which the designated response is “Glorify him!” (Along the lines of “Christ has risen!” / “He has risen indeed!” in Eastertide.) “Merry Christmas” is a mild and secular greeting by comparison.

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  6. […] English translation “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” Rebecca Miller already talked about it a couple of weeks ago on her blog, and a commenter there explained most of what I know about the hymn, but I still think it’s […]

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