Monday, 3 December 2012

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

My wife sings in the choir at the magnificent Astbury parish church on ‘High Days and Holidays’ in exchange for practising with them on a Friday night – one of her few ‘me-times’ during a busy week.

She also sings at the occasional wedding or other service. I like going with her when it’s Candlemas, Easter or Advent – or one of the other major festivals. I love all that. Funnily enough, my wife doesn’t. She is inveterately ‘low-church’ and was perfectly happy when we attended a Baptist church. She’s very pragmatic and doesn’t like ‘fripperies’. She's not keen on wearing the very fetching red choir robes either. I think they’re cool. What she does like, though, is the music. 

They have a very competent and knowledgeable conductor up there at Astbury and they do proper anthems and the kind of traditional Anglican music that is so rarely heard these days. Where else could my wife go – other than to some kind of choral or operatic society – to sing ‘proper’ music? I mean, no disrespect to ‘happy-clappy’ or ‘contemporary’ Christian music buffs (oh, alright, I’ll come clean, with a lot of disrespect for ... ). I'm sure that contemporary worship-songs demand a level of musicianship in a different way, but let’s face it – if you want to sing something more stretching then you're going to have to look elsewhere.

Sure, I accept that these songs are intended for congregational use rather than trained choirs. That said, they so often sound as if they are intended for praise-bands on stage rather than people with a diverse range of singing abilities in the pews or the plastic bucket-seats.

The traditional Advent hymns ‘get’ me every time. Those lines in ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ that run, ‘In ancient time didst give the Law/In cloud and majesty and awe ...’

We also had ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ last night, which struck me as strange outside of a Eucharistic context, but still ... what a cracking hymn.

Some Christian traditions observe Advent as a kind of mini-Lent, not something I have done hitherto. But it makes a lot of sense. If Advent is the season where we remind ourselves of Christ’s first and second-comings and prepare to celebrate his Nativity, then it seems appropriate to mark it in some way. I’m going to explore ways of doing that this Advent season. I’m not quite sure how but I do consciously want to avoid the vapid commercialism that is such a feature of this time of year. Sure, I’ll enjoy my turkey and my Christmas pud’ when the time comes, but I was struck by the note of ‘repentance’ in the sermon last night. Not in any po-faced, pietistic way, but that sense of preparing our minds, adjusting our focus. The rector used a beautiful and striking analogy drawn from London tube-trains ... how we feel the wind and breeze of them before they arrive. I’ll carry that with me as I feel the soft breeze on my cheek, the wind begin to stir and ruffle my hair.

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