Music In Advent

It's the first Sunday of Advent. In our house that means the Christmas music has started. From now through Epiphany, for hours each day, via cassette tapes, compact discs and mp3 files, Christmas music will resound.A New England Christmas and Feliz Navidad in Santa Fe. Handel's Messiah in both its traditional and soulful interpretations. Gregorian chant and rap. Blues and bluegrass. Jazz and country. Rock and gospel. Celtic and soul. Calypso and New Age. Acoustic, electric and electronic. Sacred and secular. Vocal, instrumental and a capella. Devotional, sensual and materialistic.Yo-Yo Ma and Bootsy Collins. Doris Day and the Ramones (on the same CD!). The McGarrigles and the Nevilles. Gene Autry and Mahalia Jackson. Ella Fitzgerald and James Taylor. The London Symphony Orchestra and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Angelique Kidjo and Papa Wemba. Sting and Enya. The St. Louis Jesuits and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Run-DMC and Rascal Flatts. Bing Crosby and Ray Charles. The Pussycat Dolls and the Indigo Girls. Dolly Parton and Stevie Wonder. Cee-Lo Green and the Muppets. And more. So much more.

Over the years I've had friends with stricter liturgical sensibilities who disapproved (and continue to disapprove). They have a point. It's hard to make any kind of argument---let alone a good one---that "Santa Baby" or "Back Door Santa" or The Singing Dogs' version of "Jingle Bells" helps one enter more deeply into the season of Advent or the mystery of the Incarnation.I'm even somewhat sympathetic to the argument that all this Christmas music (even the religious music) has the effect of preempting the beauty and importance of the waiting season of Advent.In the end however, I come down on the side of a former pastor who had a genius for searching out and finding ways in which God was hidden within---and active in---popular culture and daily life. This priest once opened a homily by talking about his love for the great German hymn, "Silent Night". He went on to say that there's not much we can be sure of regarding the first Christmas Eve, but we can say with great certainty that it was not a silent night. In fact, the stories we have from Matthew and Luke's gospels indicate it was a noisy, disjointed, bewildering and overwhelming night.Not unlike many of our own days and nights as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. Not unlike the weeks and days leading up to the births of those we know and love.It's with that perspective---that God is here, somewhere, in the midst of the noise and clutter and busyness of Advent in the city (and in our house), waiting to be born, waiting "in the midst of our circumstance" to be discovered and revealed in a new way---that I'll try to hear the music this Advent, listening over and over to the old, familiar songs in the hopes of discovering something new.What Advent traditions do you have?

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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