Anyone who has ever planned a vacation or special event knows that sometimes the excitement of anticipation can rival the thing being anticipated. The season of Advent is all about anticipating the arrival of God in human form, and certainly nothing can top that!
But we cheat ourselves when we go straight from Thanksgiving to Christmas without fully appreciating the opportunity Advent offers for reflection, preparation, and joyful anticipation. It turns out there is plenty of music to help us do so. Here’s a list of suggested listening to set the right tone for your observance of Advent this year.
1. ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’
Text from Charles Wesley, tune from Southern Harmony. Sung here by Fernando Ortega.
2. ‘O Lord, How Shall I Meet You’
By Paul Gerhardt, arguably the best hymn writer of all time. The words of this hymn call to mind Christ’s passion while expressing the profound awe of the sinner that Jesus could die to save one such as him.
3. ‘Prepare the Royal Highway’
The king of kings is near! A joyful congregational setting led from the piano.
4. ‘Creator of the Stars of Night’
This thousand-year old chant still sounds new.
5. ‘The Angel Gabriel From Heaven Came’
This song about the most highly favored lady of all time has been recorded by everyone from Sting to Charlotte Church. Here, the choir of King’s College.
6. ‘Comfort Ye My People’
From part one of Handel’s “Messiah”: Isaiah’s prophecy of a savior.
7. ‘Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding’
Another thousand-year-old text, here sung by the choir and congregation of Christ Church Bronxville.
8. ‘Savior of the Nations Come’
Reflect on the words to the hymn, attributed to Ambrose of Milan, while listening to this Busoni transcription played by Vladimir Horowitz. “Not by human flesh and blood, By the Spirit of our God, Was the Word of God made flesh—Woman’s Offspring, pure and fresh.”
9. ‘Holy Is His Name’
A contemporary setting of the Magnificat (Song of Mary) by John Michael Talbot.
10. ‘Soon and Very Soon’
We are going to see the king! This live performance features composer Andrae Crouch and several others you may recognize.
11. ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’
No Advent is complete without this most famous and oft-recorded of Advent hymns. Here is a modern version by Pentatonix.
12. ‘The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns’
The nature of Advent calls us to consider not only Christ’s first coming but his second. “Oh, brighter than that glorious morn / Shall dawn upon our race / The day when Christ in splendor comes / And we shall see His face.”
13. ‘Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending’
From John Rutter’s Cambridge Singers.
14. ‘Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying’
By sixteenth-century hymnist and composer Philipp Nicolai, a rival to Gerhardt for the title of greatest, this hymn also does double duty for both Advent and the end times. “The bridegroom comes, awake!”
15. ‘The Night Will Soon Be Ending’
16. ‘Savior of the Nations, Come’
Yes, I know it’s already on the list. But this time, it’s the whole glorious nine yards from Mr. Bach: “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis 62).
Here is a handy YouTube playlist where you can listen to all of these selections back-to-back. Blessed Advent!