Advent is necessary.
Even for those who don’t buy into the metaphysics of this season, the need to practice states of being is supremely human. We need to practice repentance, so that when we truly need to repent we know how to do it. We need to practice joy, so that when we really need to be joyful, we know how to do it. We need to practice zeal, so that when the moment to be zealous comes, we’ll get into the mode quickly. Lent, Christmas, and Pentecost, respectively, help us do these things.
And do them well.
Advent, Beloved, is the season where we practice waiting. It’s so human. Because we’re all waiting for something.
For birth. For death. For a new job. For the other shoe to drop. For guests to come over. For love to find us. For illness to abate. For a heart to mend.
We wait, and Advent helps us do it well. Through the themes of light and shadows, unexpected opportunities, a mixed-bag of saint days, and the onset of the Solstice, Advent helps us to train our bodies into a posture of waiting, so that when it happens, we’ll know how to do it with more patience, less anxiety, more expectation, and a sober heart and mind.
To accompany this waiting, I’ve taken on the discipline of finding Advent music to dot the days. I promised I’d throw out all the music I’ve compiled, and so here is this year’s list. Some of these are new additions, and some are long-standing, tried and true pieces that have waited with me many times.
But, to capstone your waiting on this Christmas Eve, I give it to you.
Merry Christmas. The wait is over…for now.
Shine by Collective Soul
Dreams by The Cranberries is a good addition.
Dreams dot the Advent/Christmas landscape. Joseph is told of Mary’s pregnancy in a dream (in the Gospel of Matthew), and the Magi are warned in a dream not to return to Herod (also in Matthew).
Do yourself a favor and add Joshua Radin’s Winter.
Enya’s Stars and Midnight Blue is a good choice.
An unconventional (and, perhaps, unpopular?) choice would be Bette Midler’s From a Distance.
Yeah, I know, but go with me on this for a second.
If Christmas is radical incarnation and embodiment, then the Advent days of preparation are one where we watch for someone who is coming from far off. So if, as Midler says, “God is watching us from a distance,” at Christmas God begins interacting with us from closer proximity…no longer at a distance.
Advent is the time when we prepare for the one coming “from a distance.”
This, and the themes of peace in the lyrics, make it an appropriate Advent song, if not a good one.
Josh Ritter’s Where the Night Goes. You won’t be disappointed.
His themes of “homecoming” and “memories” fits nicely with the Advent themes of “housewarming.”
Your Advent playlist should include The Christmas Song by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds.
CCR’s Put a Candle in the Window has long been my Advent go-to. The themes of traveling, homecoming, and light make it a perfect choice.
Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night is the original of this oft-recorded song, and the best in my opinion. Lightfoot’s voice adds the brooding tone to this beauty.
Cue Brandi Carlile’s A Promise to Keep up next. Advent is about waiting for promises to be kept, after all.
Joni Mitchell’s River is another oft-recorded song that, again, is best in the original.
Advent has a haunting theme behind all the waiting and all the watching. In ancient days they used to tell ghost stories around the fire at night in these winter months. A good addition to your playlist for the season would be this one by the artist Sting, Hounds of Winter.
To Be With You by Sara Groves is perhaps the most Christmas-y of the Advent tunes I’ve chosen, but the lyrics paint such a pretty picture of the gathered family that it deserves a slot.
Lumineer’s Stubborn Love is great for an Advent playlist. God shows a stubborn love in the themes of this season.
This year may, indeed, be better than the last…so Counting Crows’ A Long December should be on the list.
To add some funk to your Advent playlist, throw Jamiroquai’s Starchild on there and give it a spin.
And then look up the lyrics and you’ll see why it fits.
Toward the end of December, after the “Ember Days” of the middle of the month, when you’re sure the light will give out, the church starts naming the historic names of The Messiah to make the promise a sort of daily mantra.
On December 17th it begins with O Wisdom. Wisdom is the muse of creation…an inspiring force to change the world.
An Advent song that encompasses this theme might be: You’re the Inspiration by Chicago
On the occasion of O Adonai (My Lord), the 18th of December, a good addition would be the beautiful and enigmatic My Sweet Lord by George Harrison.
On the O Antiphon where we honor O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse), December 19th, try Iron and Wine’s Tree By the River.
It’s about memories and roots deeply planted that, though long dead, still live on…
On December 20th when we remember the Key of David, Take a listen to the Mumford and Sons song Winter Winds.
On December 21st the O Antiphon is “O Dayspring.”
An unconventional, but lyrically fascinating, offering would be Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun.
Seriously, listen to the lyrics. It fits your Advent playlist.
The O Antiphon for the 22nd is O King of Glory.
A good addition to your Advent playlist today would be The Hand Song by Nickel Creek.
A song about love and sacrifice and scars: the marks of a king according to the Messiah account.
Throw on Dear Evan Hansen’s You Will Be Found as the song for the 23rd’s O Antiphon: O Emmanuel.
God with us.
You will be found.
And finally, for Christmas Eve, do yourself a favor and throw on this song by Tracy Chapman which, I think, is a modern rendition of the Magnificat: Talkin’ Bout a Revolution.
“Yes, finally the tables are starting to turn…”