Advent hymn brings us back to true meaning of Christmas

By Randall M. Van Handel | Special to The Compass | December 15, 2016

Editor’s note: This is the last of a four-part series on hymns used in parishes at Advent. Four music ministers from parishes in the Diocese of Green Bay have agreed to describe one of their favorite Advent hymns and how it is used during Advent liturgies.

“A Voice Cries Out,” by Fr. Michael Joncas, has a wonderful message about Advent. With today’s “commercial” season of Christmas, this song brings us back to “Prepare a Way for the Lord,” a reminder to take time to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ in our hearts.

Randall Van Handel, director of music and organist at St. Mary Parish in Black Creek. (Kathy Weigman | For The Compass)

Verse one gives us the hope that we will mourn no more because “the Lord of life will come.”  In verse two, we are told that the valleys and hills will be made low when the glory of God is revealed, and then all nations will sing in praise.

Verse three tells us, “Cry! O what shall I cry? The word of the Lord is forever.” And verse 4 demands, “Zion: Behold your God!”

Verse 5 conveys to us that “The Lord will appear as a shepherd, holding us all in his arms.” All the verses give us such a sense of the peace that will rule the world when the Lord comes.

What makes this song so special for me and the congregation is the first words of the song. The text, which is based on Isaiah 40:1-11, is rich with meaning. Also, the music is so beautiful when it begins in a major key with the refrain changing to a minor key.

This is such a great hymn as it combines a powerful text with a strong musical form. The combination makes it a wonderful hymn for both young and old. The most unique feature is the melody of the verses. While verses two and four are the same, the other three have similar, but not exact, melodies. The song should always be introduced to the congregation before using it within the liturgy.

I use this hymn for the entrance chant or presentation and preparation of the gifts. As an entrance chant, we sing the entire hymn and start with the refrain. This gives the congregation a sense of the mood for the beginning of Advent.

I begin the song with a flowing beat, but build the refrain with a strong beat. If we sing it for presentation and preparation of the gifts, we begin with verse one. We sing the harmonies on the refrain only. I prefer to have the verses in unison so we all can sing the verses in one strong voice. St. Mary Parish is a strong singing congregation that believes that “singing is praying twice.”

Music is very powerful because it stimulates our emotions and can change our minds and hearts. Advent is a time to prepare ourselves for the coming of Jesus into the world and the music of Advent helps lead us on this path or “journey.”

The music makes me feel that we are walking with Mary and Joseph on the journey to Bethlehem and that we are all witnesses of Christ coming to earth. Christmas music is not appropriate without the preparation! This song is all about being prepared.

Van Handel  is director of music and organist at St. Mary Parish, Black Creek. 

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