Music for Advent and Christmas 2022

Music for Advent and Christmas at Trinity Anglican Church
The seasons of Advent and Christmastide are times of particular richness in our Anglican liturgical and
music traditions. The Advent themes of watchfulness and expectation find their fulfillment in the Nativity story
of the Incarnation, with all its diverse components. The joyous proclamation of the angels, the stillness of the
holy night, and the adoration of the shepherds at the crèche are all part of the familiar story, in which we are
invited to participate: “O come, let us adore Him”.
Although the narration is well known, our tradition lets us focus on the individual parts as they unfold
throughout the entire Christmas season, and not just on Christmas Eve, which leads to a greater understanding
of the deeper message. Musically, while the commercial world may be hearing the familiar carols starting
before Thanksgiving (although these days the onslaught seems to begin at some point around Labour Day!), our
Christmas celebration begins on December 24th. This being the case, what do we sing in Advent?
The dual nature of Advent (the coming birth of Christ, and His return at the end of time) is proclaimed in our
Advent hymns. “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding” and “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” call upon the
worshipper to prepare for Christ’s birth, and to prepare a place in one’s heart to receive Him. Charles Wesley’s
hymn “Lo, He comes with clouds descending” foretells the Second Advent, with its many references to imagery
from the book of Revelation. The words are stern, and serve as a reminder to get one’s spiritual house in order
before receiving the Saviour. What a wonderful and meaningful alternative to the sentimentality of much
popular Christmas music, and also so appropriate as a true preparation for the joy of Christmas!
The Nativity itself is celebrated with various emphases, all appropriate to the moment. The hymns of
Christmas Eve speak of the nighttime announcement of the angels, and of the miraculous birth itself: “It came
upon a midnight clear”, “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”, “O little town of Bethlehem, how still
we see thee lie”, and “Hark! the herald angels sing (it seems that herald angels, like herald trumpets, are there to
directly proclaim). This latter carol, also by Charles Wesley, was written for his Hymns and Sacred Poems of
1739, and was later joined to music of Felix Mendelssohn, music originally composed for a text in celebration
of Gutenberg’s invention of movable type! Perhaps the most beloved carol, the Austrian “Silent Night”, was
written in great haste on Christmas Eve of 1818, a collaboration between priest Joseph Mohr and his organist
Franz Grueber. The church’s organ had broken down, and a hymn was needed that had the feel of an Austrian
folksong, and which could be accompanied by two guitars; necessity in this case was not only the mother of
invention, but the creator of a miniature masterpiece. Christmas Day focuses on the joy of the Incarnation, so it
is fitting that we sing “Good Christian men, rejoice”, with its refrain “Christ is born today!” “The First Nowell”
is a compact summary of the Nativity events from Christmas Eve right through to the Epiphany visit of the
Wise Men, and Christina Rossetti’s “In the bleak midwinter”, a text that evokes a message of warmth in the
midst of winter’s cold, and is sung to Gustav Holst’s soothing and poignant music.
The organ music selected for Advent and Christmas provides an elegant and appropriate framework for the
hymns and service music, and further reflect the emphasis of each individual season. Advent is a time of
introspection and expectation, so the organ works contribute to a mood of reflection, culminating in the joyous
arrival of Christmas Eve and Day. Music from the great masters of organ composition such as Bach,
Buxtehude, Brahms, and others all serve to magnify the various moods and themes of our Christmas hymns, and
help to amplify the liturgies themselves.
Advent expectation, Christmas Eve contemplation, and Christmas Day exuberance are all brought forth in
our hymns and organ music for the season. All are welcome to experience and participate in these rich seasons
of worship at Trinity Anglican Church.

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