Happy Monday, Friends! Yesterday the church celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. For the next few weeks we’re going to focus on Advent, Christmas, and the New Year. For a good part of my life, I’ve been involved in church music, primarily choir. I love traditional Christmas music—traditional in the sense of hymns and a little Bing Crosby. Let’s draw our inspiration from the great hymns of the season: “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that morns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come thee, O Israel.”
Two weeks ago, I discussed how Advent, despite being one of the busiest times of the year, is meant to be a time of slowing down and preparing ourselves for the miracle of the Incarnation, the time when God left God’s seat and became like us, experiencing all the ups and downs of human life. This quintessential Advent hymn speaks to that preparing and the human yearning for God. The hymn goes on addressing and recounting fundamental ways that God has appeared among and cared for God’s people in history—from the giving of the law to King David to the savior who prophets situated in the House of David.
Growing up this hymn always brought a grin to the faces of each member of my family. For reasons that were never fully explained, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was my paternal grandmother’s least favorite hymn. Born in 1921, Luella Huelskamp (née Tiell) could remember being driven to school in a horse-and-buggy by her grandfather, Paul Williams, who had served in the Civil War. She survived the Great Depression and the worry of the home front during World War II while her future husband was serving in the Pacific. Until health issues forced her into a nursing home she walked from her longtime home to church as often as she could. Why this otherwise devout Roman Catholic woman would disdain an old hymn was anyone’s guess.
Hymns and music in general often become associated with specific memories. We remember the firsts in our lives and we’re told that couples are supposed to have “a song.” Just one line from a song can transport us back to a specific time and place. Music from the Shins, Drive by Truckers, and the Decemberists immediately carry me back to college and great friends. Some hymns remind me of the church where I grew up, while other hymns will always be associated with other churches and places. In many ways Advent is also a time of remembering. We recall the words of the prophets who proclaimed the coming of the messiah. We “read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child,” as the traditional welcome to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols reads.
What songs bring back memories for you? How do you reflect on scripture during Advent?
Let us pray: God of memories, help us to recall the best of our lives and family traditions. Gives us those moments when a song or music transport us back to a particular place and time. As we remember the history of our salvation, let us mark those moments when you were with us. We ask this through your son who become like us that we might become like you. Amen.
Blessings on your week, my friends. Let me know if there is anything I can do for you.