One of my favorite musical works is Brahms German Requiem. It pulses with an authority. It draws from the rich well of choral and orchestral tones to swaddle the hearer in a warm fabric of sound that refreshes the soul. All truly great music captures the heart of the hearer and converts a passive listener into one who drinks of a mystery -- an event that sounds can barely capture.
Advent is symphonic. Like a Brahms chorus, the harmonies are lush and the changes subtle but full of vibrant life. The "motif" of the Creation heard in throughout season. The choirs of heaven sing the opening chords of redemption -- the promises made through the prophets of the Messiah -- and forecast of the reign of God.
Advent is symphonic. It is not a time to merely ready oneself for Christmas. It is a time to be riveted by the majesty of the Incarnation, by the truth that "Once in David's Royal City stood a lowly cattle shed, where a Mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed. Mary was that Mother mild, Jesus Christ her little Child."
Yet, the reality remains that Advent has become a "muffled" carol, overcome by blaring commercial festivity and a secularized vision of holiday. A time of the year when warm feelings, fond friends and one's family get exalted and people can be openly kind and cheerful. There's more to the Hymn of Advent than that, but the warmth rises from coals of Faith that need the breath of God to break into a blazing flame -- giving Light in the darkness.
Maybe that's what Christmas Carols are for. . . the breath of the Spirit arrives in the songs that lift the World's heart and mind beyond the mustered pettiness of daily life. The whole of Advent lifts our eyes once more to the God who saves us and to the hope of our ultimate salvation -- the coming of the Lord in glory. That's the point of Advent after all. The Christ who was once born in Bethlehem calls us to himself even now and our hope is fixed heavenward.
Nobody sings six verses of the "Once in David's Royal city." Too bad. The sixth verse tells it all: "Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by, we shall see him; but in heaven set at God's right hand on high, when like stars his children crowned all in white shall wait around." The glory of Advent lies in the melody it puts forth that reaches its full grandeur among the saints and angels in the Presence of God.