Music in Worship
Music in Worship
Advent Week 1: Hope
Sunday, November 27
In the darkness of the pre-dawn, we wait for the morning light with hopeful anticipation of the new day. Even in the absence of light we are certain that the sun will rise again.
The word “Advent” means “arrival.” Beginning the church year, Advent is a season of watchful waiting for the arrival of Jesus. Advent in particular is focused on two aspects of the arrival of Jesus: both the birth of Jesus in the Christmas story, and the anticipation of His second coming in glory.
The Advent hymn “Wachet auf, ruft uns die stimme!” tells us to “Wake up, a voice is calling!” It was written by Phillip Nicolai in 1599, and has remained a popular tune, arranged by scores of composers. Most notably, J.S. Bach wrote Cantata BWV 140, and several chorale preludes for organ, which are still widely performed today. We are told to vigilantly keep aware, and be watchful for the return of Jesus. In the midst of our darkness, keep a glimmer of light burning to sustain our hope.
The hymn “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland” has also stood the test of time as a traditional Advent I hymn. It translates as “Savior of the Nations, Come” or “Savior of the Heathen, Come.” Meaning, He will be the savior of *all* people, even the heathen. “Nun Komm” was written by Martin Luther in 1524, and over the years has steadily been arranged into numerous musical settings. As with “Wachet auf !,” it represents the coming of Christ incarnate at Christmas, and His second coming.
These traditional Advent I tunes remind us that with watchful anticipation, we can maintain hopeful certainty that Jesus will rise again.
Advent Week 2: Peace
Sunday, December 4
Second Winds & Second Strings, our intergenerational instrumental
ensemble, will present An Advent Fantasy, newly-composed by Patrick
L. Pauloski. This piece of music quotes traditional Advent carols and
hymns such as Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, O Come, O Come
Emmanuel, and Comfort, Comfort Ye My People. Allow this piece of
music to help center yourself in the spirit of anticipation and waiting
that is Advent. As you listen, see if you can recognize the Advent carol
and hymn quotations throughout; these quoted themes may not always
come, appear, and resolve in ways you might expect!
Advent Week 3: Joy
Sunday, December 11
The Scripture for this Sunday, Luke 1:26-38, tells of the encounter between Mary, Jesus’ mother, and the angel Gabriel. In this meeting with the angel, a virginal Mary learns that she is God’s favored to bear a son through the power of the Holy Spirit, and that she is to name him Jesus. Jesus will be called “the Son of the Most High” and will “reign over the house of Jacob forever.” Additionally, God’s sovereignty is revealed to Mary through the miracle that was the conception of a son by her barren and old relative, Elizabeth.
After Mary has learned all of this, she sets out to visit Elizabeth. As soon as Mary greets her relative, Elizabeth’s son in the womb joyfully leaps and Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit. Elizabeth exclaims that Mary is blessed among women and that the “fruit of her womb,” Jesus, is blessed.
Bogoróditse Djévo, by the living Estonian composer, Arvo Pärt, is a joyful setting of the “Ave Maria” or “Hail, Mary” in Old Church Slavonic. The text itself is two greetings given to Mary by the angel Gabriel and her relative Elizabeth: “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you” and “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Old Church Slavonic is to Russian, Ukrainian, and Czech what Latin is to French, Italian, and Spanish. Indeed, many Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic Christians in Eastern Europe still practice their faith and liturgical rites in the Old Church Slavonic language.
According to Luke 1:46-55, Mary’s reaction to the revelation of God’s salvific plan is to exclaim that “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Carol Choir, joined by the Sanctuary Choir and organ, will sing Mary’s canticle of praise set by the late-nineteenth-century English composer, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. Mary’s song of praise, also known as the “Magnificat” describes a changed world where the powerful are brought down from their thrones while the lowly are lifted; the rich are sent away empty while the hungry are filled; and those who fear God are given mercy.
Advent Week 4: Love
Sunday, December 18
Christmas Music SundayFeaturing Sanctuary Choir and Festival Orchestra
Felix Mendelssohn was an enormously talented and versatile composer, conductor, and performer. He was the grandson of the famous Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, who strongly promoted Jewish assimilation into German culture and society. Mendelssohn’s father eventually converted the family to the Lutheran faith when Felix was a young boy. It is through this connection with Lutheranism that Mendelssohn became acquainted with the tradition of congregational hymnody and particularly, those written by the great reformer Martin Luther. He was struck with the beauty and power of Luther’s hymns and immediately began composing a series of pieces based on hymns.
Beginning with the sound of exuberant strings cascading from top to bottom, we are in for a treat as we literally experience the hope, peace, joy, and love of God descending down to us from heaven through the birth of his son, our Lord, Jesus Christ in aural representation.
We, as the cherished community of faith and God’s beloved children, will respond in joyful praise through singing some of our most favorite Christmas hymns with choir, full orchestra, and organ.
Saturday, December 24
Service of Lessons and Carols
The beginning of the Lessons and Carols service has a relatively recent history. Although carols have been around since ancient times, they were banned for a time, and their inclusion in church began in the late 1800s. Carols began as lively secular music that accompanied dancing.
In 1880, people in Truro, England were upset over the decision to build a new cathedral. Those whose land was on the location of the planned church had lost their homes, and their old church had been destroyed. In order to help smooth over bad feelings and bring some joy to the inhabitants, Bishop Edward White Benson held a Christmas Eve service in an unheated, temporary shed. He structured this service as nine lessons and carols. Drawing on a widespread renewed interest in carols, he combined carols, hymns, and readings. Carols had traditionally been sung door to door. They had been banned from church until 1875, only five years prior. By using carols in the Christmas Eve service that would have been used in a more secular manner elsewhere this night, Bishop Benson effectively discouraged going to a pub on Christmas Eve. This inaugural service included our beloved carols The First Nowell and Good Christian Men Rejoice.
From its lowly beginnings in a shed, the service of the Lessons and Carols steadily spread. In 1918, Dean Eric Milner-White brought Lessons and Carols to Kings College, Cambridge. He wanted a special service to grieve those lost in the war and to attract people back to church whose faith had been shaken by World War I. In 1928, Kings College began broadcasting the service, and it has now become a widespread tradition. The first Lessons and Carols service in the US, in 1916, at Brown University in Rhode Island, actually predates Kings College by two years.
Our carols, congregational hymns, and anthems are thoughtfully paired with each reading to reflect on its unique message. As you contemplate the texts, also consider the music itself as a form of prayer and praise.
This heartwarming service culminates with the singing of Silent Night. From the single flame of the Christ Candle, the Light of Christ is spread out into the congregation one by one. From that one light, the entire church glows with warm radiance.