There’s an Advent Hymn that I’ve wanted to point out to people for a while, and I figured I’d pull it up for you all at this blog. It’s called Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding, and the reason why I’ve had it in mind is because it quotes the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent in its first verse.
… except, as I suddenly realized as I sat down to write about it, this hymn was written in around the 6th century. So it’s probably not quoting the Collect as we know it. But it’s making the same Romans 13 reference as the Collect, which means that the way we collect Scripture together to develop the themes of Advent is the way the Church has done it for over 1,500 years. Let’s check it out.
Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding;
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”
There it is, our “cast away the works of darkness” reference from Romans 13. Christ is near, we are children of the day, so put on the armor of light.
Waken’d by the solemn warning;
Let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
The theme of waking up, or staying awake, is also a prominent refrain in Advent hymnody and Scripture. Christ as the morning star, or the sun at dawn, is also a common Advent image, depicting his Return as the beginning of a new and eternal day.
Lo! the Lamb, so long-expected,
Comes with pardon down from heav’n;
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all to be forgiv’n.
Now we’ve got an echo of “Come thou long expected Jesus” (another Advent hymn). And this third verse also highlights something that tends to get downplayed by a number of people today: Advent is a penitential season.
So when next he comes with glory,
And the world is wrapped in fear,
May he with his mercy shield us,
And with words of love draw near.
Honor, glory, might, and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
With the everlasting Spirit,
While unending ages run.
I think it’s nice to see the same conflicting emotions from the 500’s that we have today when it comes to the subject of eternity and judgment: fear, mercy, and love.
The Trinitarian doxology in the final verse, by the way, is characteristic of ancient hymns. It’s impressive how many subtly different ways people find to praise the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same 188.8.131.52 meter.
Another great thing about this hymn is that it fits anytime during Advent. The reference to the first Sunday’s Collect makes it especially good for the first Sunday (in modern prayer book tradition, which no longer repeats that Collect throughout the season). It also appeals well to the Collect for the 4th Sunday, so the end of the season works as well for this song as the beginning. But apart from that, the wide sweep of classic Advent themes make this hymn great for any time in the season.