Our theme this year for Advent is “The Beginning is Near”. In Advent we do not simply wait for the end of the story, but the beginning. Advent is not about the end of all things, but the true beginning of all things. Advent is about the arrival of Jesus. In fact, that is literally what the word Advent means – arrival. The arrival of Jesus marks the end of the old ways of war, apathy, despair and hate, and the beginning of peace, hope, joy and love. For the early Christians this was good news or gospel. For them the season of Advent was about preparing for and participating in this arrival, this new way of being in the world.
I think one of the ways to help prepare is through music and song. We do this each year in worship. We sing familiar songs to help us get ready. Well what I present here is a non-traditional mixtape to help us get ready. Good music has a way of speaking truth much more powerfully than simply words alone. Good musicians are prophetic artists that can show a world that we can only imagine right now. So like the seven seals of the Book of Revelation, it’s my hope that these songs will open up for you your own apocalypse, your own unveiling of a world to come, a world already coming, and our place in it.
Wait! by Common Deer
Common Deer is a young, up and coming band from Toronto. They blend classical influences with synthesizers and arena rock enthusiasm to create some pretty energetic music. In this song Wait! they capture perfectly the urgency of Advent. When they sing in the chorus, “Wait! There’s no time to waste. They’ll take all there is to take” they seem a contemporary echo of the words of Jesus, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13:32).
A Beginning Song by the Decemberists
The Decemberists 2015 album was appropriately titled “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World”. It pretty much captures the view of the world that a lot of people hold these days. In a clever turn, the last song on the album is A Beginning Song. This ending in beginning captures well the ethos of Advent. In beginning the Advent liturgical season we look to the end, the unveiling in Mark’s little apocalypse in chapter 13. The song is accompanied by a beautiful video. The song itself also picks up on the Advent theme of waiting and hope. They ask, “I am waiting, should I be waiting?” And again, “I am hopeful, should I be hopeful?” It’s an introspective song that invites us to see the light in us and in the world around us.
A New Song by Chance the Rapper
Chance the Rapper has made a name for himself lately in the hip-hop and pop worlds for blending thoughtful, socially aware lyrics with classic R&B, Gospel and Soul sounds. He’s not afraid to delve into religion, politics and race in his songs. In this song, which he debuted on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, he explores fatherhood, fame, sin, temptations, racial inequality, white privilege and societal apathy. Things aren’t right the way they are now, but Chance knows that social change can’t come without first dealing with our own demons. Here he is a modern day John the Baptizer calling us to make ourselves ready for a new day that’s coming, even now: “The day is on its way, couldn’t wait no more, here it comes, ready or not, here it comes.”
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Hey! Rosetta is a local St. John’s band with a big sound and poetic lyrics written by frontman Tim Baker. Their Christmas EP from a few years back is a favourite of mine and any of the songs on it could be on this list. I choose this one for our list because it is an Advent standard and familiar to the religious and unreligious alike. The song itself is based on the O Antiphons, or the great Os, and are Magnificat antiphons used in Advent Vespers (evening prayers). In Hey! Rosetta’s version they strip away their powerful instrumentation and leave the raw emotion of Baker’s vocals and the aching, longing of the lyrics. It’s a beautifully stark cover of a great Christian hymn.
It’s the End of the World by REM
In this post-punk 80’s anthem REM gives voice to the apathetic anxiety of living in a post-nuclear, capitalistic society. The video has a post-apocalyptic feel to it. A young boy sifts through the chaotic trash of a world that was, but is gone. The boy holds old pictures of people, perhaps ancestors long gone. It’s as if he is looking for something, anything to make sense of the environment that he finds himself in. As the song fades and the camera pans out we see that one of the walls of the house is missing. Even if the boy doesn’t realize it, the world is not contained to the room where he finds himself. As the chorus repeats, we see that in fact it is not the end of the world – the future is wide open. The end is never the end, just another beginning. This is the story of Advent, and the heart of the Christian story.
The Times They Are A Changin’ by Bob Dylan
The poet laureate, Bob Dylan, was the prophetic voice of a generation. The 60’s were a time of great social and political upheaval and Bob Dylan provided the soundtrack. But revolution, political, spiritual or otherwise, is timeless and so, therefore, Bob Dylan is timeless. Our current time feels eerily like the 60’s. Political turmoil, race relations, economic inequality and gender issues that were awoken in the 60’s have stirred again. Actually, Advent reminds us that this sense of longing for change and justice is nothing new, but part of the human condition. With echoes of the Beatitudes and the Magnificat, Dylan strums his guitar and reminds each new generation of the Kingdom hope to come:
” Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly aging
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
Cause the times they are a-changing”
You by Gungor
Gungor is a husband-wife duo that came out of the contemporary Christian music scene, but as artists they have quickly outgrown that genre. Creative, genre-defying songs, great musicianship and smart lyrics make Gungor worthy of your iTunes or Spotify playlists. You is a song of spiritual journey from childish, Sunday School faith, through doubt and despair, on to openness and thoughtful faith. The song ends with a wide open faith in Jesus:
“You were there
Every broken heart and tangled care
Jesus, Teacher, Brahman Light
Son of God and Source of Life
And it’s always only you
Even in our own personal faith journeys, the end is never the end. Each chapter that ends in our life is simply a door to a new us, a new beginning. The cosmic story of Advent’s endings and beginnings is played out in me and you, every day, day after day.
So there’s my mixtape for Advent, the beginning of the world. This is not an exhaustive list and I could add many, many more. What songs would you include on your playlist? Feel free to share here so that our mixtapes becomes the soundtrack for Advent, the beginning of a new world.