On Sunday, two of our themes are preparation and proclamation. We are presented with the charismatic image of John the Baptist in the Gospel, and in the Lesson from Isaiah we hear the famous words, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God [ . . . ] In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” Our hymns are all about these themes. Prepare the way, O Zion, our processional hymn, speaks of preparation for Christ in our hearts and in the world. The sequence hymn, There’s a voice in the wilderness crying, continues this line of thought with greater emphasis on John the Baptist. During communion we will sing Comfort, comfort ye my people, a very old hymn that retells the first reading. Finally, our recessional hymn is Come, thou long-expected Jesus, a hymn that wraps everything up by bringing our focus into the present in a very clear light. ”Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.”
Also during communion, Cleamon Downs will sing a setting of the eleventh canticle, Arise, shine, for your light has come. This text is very appropriate for Advent, as it is a beacon of hope and joy for the future. Verses four through six are some of my favorites. “Nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning. Your gates will always be open; by day or night they will never be shut. They will call you the City of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” May we find encouragement in these words!
Finally, a brief word on the organ postlude. The Toccata in d minor by Max Reger (1873-1916) is very representative of many of his works. Known as a “difficult” composer, Reger was incredibly prolific. Even though he led a troubled and rather tragic life (more on that in the future), he was able to create massive volumes of music. The dense Romantic period harmonies of Liszt, Wagner, and Brahms are wedded to the contrapuntal style of Bach in Reger’s music. Counterpoint is a musical term describing the systematic combination of multiple melodies. On Sunday we will hear mammoth frescoes in sound from the organ during Reger’s toccata. This massive work seems appropriate on a day when the readings bid us to prepare the way for Christ, and when we are surrounded by themes of immense import and grandeur in all of our scriptures and prayers. While Reger’s music may not be the place to hear the “still, small voice”, it is certainly where one can hear the timeless cry of John the Baptist that still resounds in our lives today. “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make a straight path for God.” May we all respond to that call as we celebrate Advent with our Cathedral family this week.
Christopher W. Powell
Organist and Choir Master