I 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.
Some years ago 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.
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.
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
This post is a revised version of one that first appeared here in December 2013.