Celebrating in a minor key

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent, and I’m leading worship at a little church in Darlaston. When I say leading worship, I mean “doing everything” – I’ve picked the hymns, will lead the prayers, will preach and generally stand at the front looking important.

I love the season of Advent when we look at the expectation of Christ’s arrival. There is great hope in the promise of a deliverer. Some of the hymns are wonderful and quite unexpected.

Take for example “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”, a wonderful hymn written in a minor key and with some extreme lyrical challenges to the faithful. It pulls no punches pointing out the failings of our human ways and contrasting it with the greatness of God.

Similarly, “O come, O come, Immanuel” draws the singer into a darkened world which needs the light of Christ to shine. There is talk of ransom paid and freedom granted.

Both of these hymns have haunting melodies in a minor scale, and no matter how triumphant the lyric there’s no escaping the harmonic message – a tinge of the melancholy in every bar.

It’s the blues of the hymn book – hope and despair writ large in a tonal environment which gives voice to the feelings and inclinations we simply don’t have words to express fully.

And I love it.


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