Musical Advent Calendar – Days 16 and 17

December 16: “Mary, did you know?”

While I have mostly been focusing on selecting music that resonates with the previous Sunday’s scriptural themes, today we are looking forward to this coming Sunday’s focus on Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel announcing to her that she would bear Emmanuel, the Son of God. There have been many pieces of music centered on this very important Biblical event, including one song that is even popular in the secular realm.

“Mary, did you know?” was composed in 1984 by Mark Lowry, intended for a Christmas event to be staged at his church. In reflecting on the process of writing the piece, Lowry said, “I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down & have coffee with Mary. You know, ‘What was it like raising God?’ ‘What did you know?’ ‘What didn’t you know?’”

The song subsequently exploded in popularity, and has been recorded by such notable musicians as Kenny Loggins, Clay Aiken, the Gaither Vocal Band, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton, and any number of other singers and ensembles. Here, my future sister-in-law Kelly Fuller plays a version of the piece for solo piano arranged by Jack Schrader. As you listen, I hope you’ll reflect on the incredible mystery of the Incarnation of the Christ, and the wonderful response of Mary to God’s will for her life.

December 17: “O come, O come Emmanuel”

December 17 holds a special place in the traditions of Advent as the day on which the so-called “O Antiphons” begin. There are seven of these antiphons, with one appointed for each day from December 17 through the day before Christmas Eve, December 23. Each of the daily antiphons tells of one of the titles or attributes of Christ; in order, the seven are:

  • O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
  • O Adonai (O Lord)
  • O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
  • O Clavis David (O Key of David)
  • O Oriens (O Dayspring)
  • O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
  • O Emmanuel (O God-with-Us)

Notably, when the first initial of each antiphon are combined in reverse order, a Latin phase is formed: Ero cras, meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come” – a fitting sentiment for the season of Advent indeed!

These traditional antiphons form the basis of one of the most well-known advent hymns, O come, O come Emmanuel, which takes each the O Antiphons as the basis for its seven traditional verses. My offering for you today is an improvisation on the first four verses of this hymn, as found in our UMC Hymnal. I have underlaid the text of the verses on the video, so that you can reflect on the relationship of the words of the hymn and my musical interpretation of them.

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show
and cause us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Mitchell Stecker, Director of Music