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Advent Hymns

Advent is upon us! This is a wonderful time of year to both remember the prophecies regarding Christ’s first coming and anticipate his coming again. If all of the prophecies concerning his first coming were fulfilled with complete literalness, we can have confidence that those prophecies yet to be fulfilled will also come to pass in his second coming.

The four Sunday’s leading up to Christmas have traditionally focused on these themes, and we have some wonderful hymns in our heritage that help us do just that. Here are some of them:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (VENI EMMANUEL)

One of the most well-known Advent hymns, this hymn is also one of the oldest hymns still on common use among Protestant churches today. Originally written in Latin in the 12th century, it was translated into English during the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement in England by John Mason Neal in 1851. It is a hymn of hope in the redemption that comes with Christ’s coming, and it is filled with allusions to Old Testament Messianic prophecies. Its tune is from a 13th century plainsong, fitting for this ancient Latin hymn.

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Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus (HYFRYDOL)

This well-known hymn, written by Charles Wesley in 1744, expresses similar themes and allusions to biblical prophecy concerning the coming of Christ, one who was born to deliver his people. As is common with Wesley’s writing, it is filled with beautiful poetic imagery such as “born a child and yet a King.”

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Savior of the Nations, Come (NUN KOMM, DER EIDEN HEILAND)

This Advent hymn, even older that “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is lesser known but just as worthy of singing today. The text is attributed to the “Father of Latin Hymnody,” Ambrose of Milan, in the 4th century. Martin Luther translated the hymn into German in 1523, and William M. Reynolds translated Luther’s German into English in 1880. The tune comes from one of Luther’s hymn collections, Enchiridia, in 1524.

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Comfort, Comfort Ye My People (GENEVAN 42)

This hymn was originally a German setting of Isaiah 40:1-15 by Johann Olearius in 1671, and translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1863. It captures the prophecies concerning John the Baptist’s preparation for Messiah, fitting for the Advent season. Its tune, as the name indicates, comes from John Calvin’s 1551 Genevan Psalter.

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Hail to the Lord’s Anointed (ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVÖGELEIN)

James Montgomery penned this hymn in 1822 as a setting of the Messianic psalm, Psalm 72. It prophecies the coming of Christ, “David’s greater Son,” who will comes to set captives free and reign over all. This is an example a setting of a prophecy wherein the first and second comings of Christ are blurred together. The tune is a traditional German hymn from the 17th century, and the hymn may also be sung to the more familiar ST. THEODULPH (“All Glory, Laud, and Honor”).

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This Avent hymn comes from the famous Berlin collaboration of pastor Paul Gerhardt and musician Johann Crüger in 1653. It is a beautiful prayer reflecting on the proper response to the coming of Christ, translated into English in 1863 by Catherine Winkworth.

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The King Shall Come (MORNING SONG)

This very old hymn, this time in Greek, was translated into English in 1907 by John Brownlie. It reflects upon prophecies mostly yet to be fulfilled in Christ’s second coming, “when morning dawns and light triumphant breaks.” The tunes is a beautiful traditional American melody from the 1813 Kentucky Harmony.

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Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending (HELMSLEY)

Another Advent hymn that focuses on the second coming of Christ, this was written by Charles Wesley in 1758. Anglical Thomas Olivers composed the tune in 1763, and English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams gives us the beautiful harmonization.

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Jesus Shall Reign (DUKE STREET)

This hymn is probably the most familiar on the list (with the exception of the next one), and it is not often directly associated with Advent. Yet Isaac Watts wrote this text as a setting of Psalm 72, a prophecy of the future global rule of Christ over all after his second coming (see my explanation here).

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Joy to the World (ANTIOCH)

One of the most well-known “Christmas hymns” is actually about Christ’s second coming, not his first! Isaac Watts wrote this text in 1719 as a setting of Psalm 98. While the psalm itself doesn’t necessarily clearly indicate which coming is in view, Watts’s description of Christ’s coming, when “sins and sorrows” will no more grow and thorns will no more “infest the ground” identifies a future time when Christ extends his rule “far as the curse is found.” Lowell Mason arranged the tune in 1848 from a melody in George Frederic Handel’s Messiah.

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About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.