It's very easy for Advent to seem like the poor relation to Christmas musically and it can be tempting to start singing carols during these weeks to fit in all the favourites. However, sticking with songs which relate to the Advent texts and themes can really help engage with the radical message behind the Christian season as a contrast to the commercialised messages we hear everywhere else at this time. In year B there is a focus on the urgency of waiting for the coming of Christ and the transformation that will come with it, with a particular focus on prophetic voices we hear from the margins.
You can find a YouTube playlist here with many of the songs suggested below.
The race that long in darkness pined (CH 290) is a good general Advent song to begin with this week while also picking up on the theme of light from the Gospel, something which Here I am to worship (MP 1086 / CCLI) also does. On Jordan's bank, the Baptist's cry (CH 334 / MP 538) and Hark the glad sound! the Saviour comes (CH 277 / MP 210) were both suggested last week but would also be appropriate this week.
All of the readings today except that psalm feature the Holy Spirit in some way and praying for the presence of the Spirit could be another way to begin, perhaps with a song such as Holy Spirit (CCLI) or the more Advent themed All who are thirsty (MP 1025 / CCLI), where we sing both for the coming of Jesus and for the coming of the Spirit. Our God saves (MP 1192 /CCLI) is one of the few CCM songs to be explicitly Trinitartian and the line “mourning turns to songs of praise” also ties in nicely with other parts of the readings today.
If you are using an Advent candle lighting song this year then Christmas is coming (CH 282 / CP 34) and Advent candles tell their story (STF 165) would both fit the pattern of readings with its themes of Promise, the Prophets, John the Baptist, and the Virgin Mary.
You might like to use a short Advent song before the reading of scripture. This is a good opportunity to give some musical continuity to the season, either by using the same song each week or by using songs in a similar style. The following songs all have a similar text, praying for Jesus to come, but use a mix of English, Latin and Aramaic: Maranatha (MV 19), Come, come Emmanuel (link), Veni, veni (WGRG), and Veni Immanuel (WGRG).
There are also some settings of plainchant which can work well here as continuity through the season, with the simplicity of the music allowing an opportunity for the power of the words to really sink in. The Advent Prose (NEH 501) is widely sung throughout Advent while O heavenly Word of God on high (NEH 2) would be another option which could also be sung to many Long Metre tunes, for example Gonfalon Royal, Morning Hymn, or Warrington.
When Zion’s fortunes God restored (CH 86) is an excellent combination of text and words which really captures the laughter and joy in Psalm 126. There are many other Common Metre tunes which could work though. Another option is When God restored our common life (PFAS) where the alternative tune of Resignation will almost certainly be better known to some congregations. For a more contemporary setting you could try O Restore us (Gordon) which was specifically written to be singable by small congregations.
If you are singing this responsorially then What marvels the Lord has done for us (OCP) is quite an extended refrain but this can work well with a shorter psalm. A simpler call and response setting is God has done great things for us (Hymnary).
There are a lot of songs which resonate with the Gospel promise we hear today that the light will come and it will bring the justice and peace prophesied in Isaiah, although Advent Song (New Scottish) is perhaps the only song directly inspired by this connection. Beauty for brokenness (CH 259 / MP 806) and Inspired by love and anger (CH 253) are both very well known but can be seen through a different lens by being used in Advent. In the latter, verse 4 (To God, who through the prophets) is sometimes marked as optional but make sure to include this as it particularly resonates with today’s readings. The verse of How long (WT) has the timeless feel of a Spiritual (similar to “Soon and very soon” perhaps?) with chorus more in the style of a worship song and this combination should make it easy to use in a variety of settings.
Given the influence of liberation theology it’s perhaps no surprise to also find songs from Latin America with these themes. El mensaje que hoy proclamamos / Hear the message we now are proclaiming (H 46) and Un camino se abre / A new way has opened (H 18) are both very catchy tunes once you get to know them, although it can be good to introduce the chorus of the latter to a congregation first with a soloist or choir taking the verse.
For a focus on John the Baptist, Wild and lone the prophet’s voice (STF 189) takes his words and tries to put them as a challenge to us while Prepare the way of the Lord (WGRG) is a simple call and response.
I often find Advent is a good time to use Taizé songs as prayer responses, singing twice at the beginning to allow people to learn it then once after each stanza of the prayers. You can also have the instrumental accompaniment continue under the spoken prayers. For this week I would suggest The kingdom of God is justice and peace (Taizé) or Wait for the Lord (CH 276 / CP 215).
The voice of God goes out to all the world (CH 283) or Hail to the Lord’s anointed (CH 474 / MP 204) would tie up many of the themes today well and give a rousing finish. The last of these has also been done in a version for band to a traditional Irish melody by New Scottish Hymns (New Scottish) and a new version by Indelible Grace (link). If you have focused on a theme of light then God, whose almighty word (CH 112) would work well with its prayer at the end of each verse "Let there be light". On a theme of justice then Make way, make way for Christ the King (CH 279 / MP 457) and God of justice (MP 1174 / CCLI) are each a classic of their time. Both these themes could also be combined in Christ be our light (CH 543 / MP 1201)