From the ubiquitous hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” written in the ninth century to “Awake to the Day” composed in this century, all Advent hymns touch my heart in a way I rarely experience at other times of the year. I think this is true for many, as I hear our Sisters often claim “Advent is my favorite season.”
Many hymns are written in E minor, my favorite and easiest key to play. Some hymns sound like tones of the Middle East, resonating and connecting with our ancestors in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Messianic images recall titles seldom used throughout the rest of the year–O Wisdom, O Key of Knowledge, O Root of Life—supplying concrete images to meet God in prayer. My favorite hymn is “My Soul in Stillness Waits/En el Silencio Te Aguardo” by Marty Haugen. The refrain embodies for me the meaning, the quiet, the anticipation, the hope of the season: “To you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you.” When I sing the hymn, I give the fermata on “waits” a long hold before singing very softly without accompaniment “truly my hope is in you.”
I wish Advent were longer than four weeks. There’s not enough time to sing all the seasonal hymns. Fortunately, the haunting melodies circulate my brain and heart effortlessly.