Those who have attended past all-school evening services at Immanuel know they focus around a central hymn or theme. As we anticipate our 2015 Advent Evening Prayer service on December 16 at 6:30 p.m., I thought I would take a moment to highlight our feature hymn: "Vox clara ecce intonat" ("Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding").
This service takes place within the prescribed framework of our Evening Prayer liturgy. We start with Advent Versicles ("The Spirit and the Church cry out: Come, Lord Jesus"), the Phos hilaron ("Joyous light of glory..."), Psalm 141 ("Let my prayer rise before you as incense..."). We sing hymns appropriate for the third week of Advent, hear Scripture, listen to short homilies, sing the Magnificat ("My soul magnifies the Lord"), and pray.
The suggested hymn for the 3rd Sunday in Advent is "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding" (Lutheran Service Book 345). The hymn was originally penned in Latin around the 6th century. This blog post has been helpful as I've meditated on the text and more literal translation. Themes of light and darkness, clarity and obscurity, the voice of John the Baptist and the voice (Word) of God, God's final judgment, and the Church's faithfulness as she waits are all present in this text, echoing the appointed Gospel reading (Matt. 11:2-11,where John the Baptist sends his disciples to Jesus to find out if He is the "one who is to come").
We will highlight this hymn at our evening service both because of its thematic relevance and for its scholarly intrigue. Similar to our singing of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" last year, we will hear all five Latin stanzas of Vox at this service, as well as each English counterpart. Students from Jr. Kindergarten through 6th grades as well as a group of faculty singers will take turns presenting each Latin stanza, after which the congregation will be invited to sing the same, just in English.
One significant difference from last year is that this Latin will be chanted according to a more or less original Gregorian tone, while the English will be sung to our current hymnal tune (19th c. English tune "Merton"). We have a student violinist as well as 3rd grade handchimers who will play the chant melody for us at different parts of the service. Mrs. Graveson will also work her magic at the organ to transition us into and out of this musical difference.
The Scripture readings and short meditations from our pastors will draw from this hymn text. All of this will flow intermingled with one another, providing the landscape, if you will, for what we hope becomes meaningful meditation and devotion. I have been blessed to be part of the planning process and pray all who attend will find both enrichment and nourishment in its beauty.