Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low. —Luke 3:5
Growing up, my family didn’t “do Advent.” Like everyone else I knew, come early December, we started our gift wish lists and our Christmas shopping, anticipated the extra parties and good food of the season, and happily listened to Christmas music on the radio. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I heard a liturgist say that Christmas music should be reserved for the Christmas season (December 25 and beyond), not played during Advent. He pointed out that we don’t jump the gun and sing Easter songs (“Christ is Risen! Alleluia!”) in Lent. Hmm, good point. That was a complete revelation to me until I realized that, yes, in fact, during Advent church music focuses on waiting, hope, light and darkness, yearning for a savior, etc., not on celebrating Jesus’ birth yet.
That year, I decided to turn off the radio when Christmas songs came on before Christmas and seek out Advent music to keep me in the Advent mindset instead. A friend suggested I listen to the first part of Handel’s Messiah, and that’s when I first heard “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted” based on the scripture readings today. I’m not an educated listener when it comes to classical choral music, but this song—and other early ones in the Messiah score—are now the quintessential sound of Advent for me. When I listen to this soundtrack, I remember that I don’t have to make up my own words or figure out an original way to pray in order to pray “successfully.” The only way I can describe it is to say that the music prays through me, just by my listening,
For Prayer: Search for Advent music on your phone or the internet to use for prayer today. You might look online for Handel’s Messiah, “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” or any other song you remember singing at mass during Advent. If you don’t have access to digital music, see if you can recall the words to a favorite Advent tune and sing it to yourself today.