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.
This week has a strong focus on the Virgin Mary featuring both the Annunciation and the Magnificat. If you are keeping this as a very tight focus then you might want to begin with The Angel Gabriel from heaven came (CH 285 / CP 198) or Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (Hymnary). The Old Testament reading is an interesting text to explore in a time when people have been worshiping as a community gathered outside of church buildings and Let us build a house (CH 198) or Christ is made the sure foundation (CH 200 / MP 73) could both connect while Gather us in (CH 623) would also link to many themes which resonate with both Advent and the Magnificat. For a more general gathering song you could consider People, look East (CH 281) Advent Hymn (CCLI), Emmanuel (link) or Heaven sings your symphony (CCLI).
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.
This is one of the weeks where a Canticle (a song from the Bible) is used instead of a Psalm. The Song of Mary is better known by the first word in its Latin text - the Magnificat. One of the main critiques of many settings is that they can diminish the radical nature of the text and to counter that the Canticle of the turning (WGRG / PFAS 75B / MV 120) is a great option, set to a well known tune which can be accompanied in many different styles. My soul gives glory (PFAS 1042) is another possibility if you are looking for something in the form of a metrical hymn, With Mary let my soul rejoice (Worship Workshop) has a bit of a jazzier feel to it, and My soul magnifies the Lord (CCLI) is a rare setting of this as a worship song.
If you prefer to sing this responsorially then Magnificat (WGRG) is easy for a congregation to pick up, even if they aren’t used to singing in Latin. You could even contrast this with reading a more contemporary translation of the text such as that by Joy Cowley (link). Magnificat (link) by Rain for Roots already has that idea as part of their recording and you could use either both or just one of the choruses.
For a focus on the Annunciation and/or the Magnificat you could use any of the songs suggested throughout this post but there are also a few other options. From a worn and weary nation (Carol of the Advent) (WGRG) sets Mary’s story in the context of the voices we hear from the margins during Advent. It would perhaps suit a choir or soloist more than a congregation but does have a simple response that congregation can join in with. No wind at the window (CH 287) has an interesting take on the Magnificat which captures the surprise and the intimacy of the experience. When out of poverty is born (CH 291) was written for Christian Aid and puts this into a wider context of injustice. This context can also link us to For the world and all its people (CH 262) which could be used as a straight hymn or as a response for intercessions. Each verse could help you find a theme for different petitions in the prayer or you could just use verse 1 as a refrain.
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 Magnificat (Taizé).
Tell out my soul (CH 286 / MP 631) is a possible setting of the Canticle but it makes an excellent final song looking forward to the promise of Christmas. Hail to the Lord’s anointed (CH 474 / MP 204) also picks up themes of breaking oppression and setting the captives free, with the latter having alternative versions by New Scottish Hymns (New Scottish) and Indelible Grace (link). You might want to turn this around and focus in it being our task to bring about the transformation on earth that has been prophesied during Advent rather than something we simply wait for and Sent by the Lord am I (CH 250) or Heaven shall not wait (CH 362) would each do this.
Just in case you thought the Epistle was being ignored altogether, it would make a strong text from which to write a dismissal which links Advent and Christmas and a song such as Of the Father’s love begotten (CH 319) or Unchanging (MP / CCLI) would tie into that very well. You could also use a more general song on this theme to round off the season such as God with us (CCLI) or Waiting here for you (CCLI)