Within Our Hearts Be Born


Join us through the season of Advent as Fr. Mike Joncas shares four weeks of original Advent hymn texts, one for each week. Whether sung or reflected upon as prayer or poetry, Joncas’ texts are sure to deepen your ritual experience during this month of spiritual preparation.

Crafted for the challenges of our time, Michael includes incisive commentaries that connect the texts to Scripture readings while providing helpful notes for further contemplation.

One new hymn text will be posted here each week, excerpted from Within Our Hearts Be Born, The Michael Joncas Hymnary: Advent and Christmas

third sunday of advent, year c

Lectionary Readings:
Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Philippians 4:4-7; Luke 3:10-18


A people that in darkness walked
yet hoped to find the light anew
heard in John’s words the voice of God
and cried aloud: “What must we do?” 

“What must we do as we await
the coming of the Holy One
to welcome Him for whom we long,
to welcome in God’s kingdom come?”

John told the crowds: “Renew your hearts;
let those with plenty learn to give.
Hoard not your clothes, your food, your goods,
but kindly share and simply live.

Let those who serve the common good
take justice as your guiding thought.
Do not extort; do not defraud;
to each their proper share allot.”

John’s challenge echoes down the years
as other issues come to view,
till we in turn cry out to God,
“In these last days what must we do?

What must we do to hear the wounds
our greed has gouged upon the globe?
What must we do to house the poor,
the hungry feed, the naked robe?

What must we do to end war’s curse:
the lives extinguished without cause,
the terror stalking innocents,
the harsh perversion of your laws? 

What must we do to guarantee
a respite from unending strife,
sustain a child’s security,
and cherish those at end of life?” 

With Holy Spirit and with fire,
baptize us, God, set us ablaze;
teach us to act what you desire
and so fulfill these Advent days.

 week 3 commentary

“A People That in Darkness Walked” reflects on John the Baptist’s ethical preaching, both recalling his original message and suggesting how it might be transposed for us today.  For communities with limited time, it would be possible to sing stanzas one, two, five and nine to create a text with coherent progress of thought.  Stanzas one and two recall the crowds who asked John’s guidance on what behavioral changes were demanded by his baptism of repentance, stanza five transports the crowd’s question to present-day worshippers, and stanza nine cites Luke 3:16, praying that the One-Who-Was-and-Is-to-Come will pour his Pentecostal spirit upon the gathering worshippers so that we may live his kingdom values.  Communities who would like to concentrate on the biblical narrative might add stanzas three and four to those already listed.  I have taken the liberty of conflating John’s preaching to the three groups to a single message to the crowds, but it should be clear that stanza three articulates Luke 3:11, the first two lines of stanza four enshrine Luke 3:12-13, and the last two lines of stanza four present Luke 3:14.  Communities that would like to concentrate on ethical challenges to contemporary worshippers might add stanzas six, seven and eight to those listed above.  These stanzas are not directly inspired by the Bible, but by reflection on major issues facing humans in the twenty-first century: ecology, inequitable distribution of the world’s goods, war, and the marginalization of those who are economically unproductive.  Very brave and committed communities might sing the entire hymn as written.

Copyright 2009, The Jan Michael Joncas Trust. All rights reserved.

suggested hymn tune


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Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

Lectionary Readings:
Baruch 5:1-9; Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6

What would it cost to follow John
from hearth and home to Jordan’s beach,
to hear the desert voice of God
resound in fiery human speech?

What would it cost to follow John
to trade our silks for camel’s hair,
to shun the trappings of our wealth,
and with the needy find our share? 

What would it cost to follow John:
to bow beneath his outstretched hand,
then plunge into the Jordan’s depths
and rise, renewed, at God’s command? 

What would it cost to follow John
and view the world through prophet’s eyes,
to speak God’s word to those in pow’r,
refusing facile compromise?

What would it cost to follow John,
to walk by faith and not by sight:
our erring paths by God made straight,
our pride laid low, our wrongs made right?

O God of desert wandering,
to follow prophet John entice
your people in this Advent-tide
to count the cost and pay the price.

suggested hymn tunes




week two commentary

Today’s hymn highlights the ethical implications of conversion.  Stanza one notes the conversion calls us from complacency to a spiritual openness that allows us to hear God’s word, convicting us of sin and calling us to change our perspectives, values and behaviors.  Stanza two suggests that the “robe of mourning and misery” that Jerusalem is bid to cast off in Baruch’s prophecy is actually a haute couture that may lock us into class ideology; exchanging this for the “cloak of justice from God” – the prophet’s dress taken up by John the Baptist – may be what is needed for our conversion (as in the adage “learning to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”).  Stanza three emphasizes our willingness to signify in public our conversion of heart with the wisdom that recognizes that private promises to God are easily broken unless sustained by the witness and prayer of a community.  Stanza four articulates our solidarity with John a social critic, anticipating the forthright denunciation of evil behavior that will ultimately lead to his beheading.  Stanza five picks up the imagery of both the Gospel and Baruch, applying the metaphor of ancient world “public works” projects preparing for the coming of a sovereign to the transformation of mores and activities in our life and world as God is increasingly welcomed to reign there.  The final stanza turns the entire hymn to a prayer that, counting the cost of (on-going) conversion, the Holy Spirit would equip the praying community to embrace it.  I hope that those singing the hymn would hear in this final verse echoes of Luke 14:28-33, where Jesus warns the crowd about the cost of being his disciple through the images of a tower-builder and a king about to go to war.

Copyright 2009, The Jan Michael Joncas Trust. All rights reserved.

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first sunday of advent, year c

Lectionary Readings:
Jeremiah 33:14-16 / Psalm 25:4-5, 8-9, 10. 14 / 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2 / Luke 21:25-28, 34-36


In former days our forebears found
in stars and moon and shining sun
the imprint of their Maker’s hand:
a message from the Holy One. 

The roaring seas, the crashing waves
bespoke their high Creator’s wrath
while famine, plague and warfare cursed
the people straying from God’s path. 

Less clearly now such ancient signs
from sky and earth and history
reveal to us divine intent
unveiled, untouched by mystery.

We long to see the Son of Man
astride the clouds, in glory girt,
yet we behold his holy face
tormented in the ones we hurt.

We strain to hear our Master’s voice
in thunder, wind or wordless sigh
yet now in all who call in need
we still may catch that plaintive cry.

We want to feel the healing touch
of him who bore our wounded flesh
yet in the broken and abused
we trace his suff’ring, ever fresh.

O Christ, you bid us lift our heads
and on your coming fix our gaze.
Unstop our ears, make keen our sight
to sense your advent in our days.

suggested hymn tunes



week 1 commentary

This Week 1 hymn text struggles with how the apocalyptic symbols of biblical revelation, powerfully meaningful two millennia ago, might be appropriated by believers today. The first two stanzas evoke the images the Bible uses to speak of God’s impending judgment on human sinfulness.  Stanza three frankly acknowledges the difficulty at least some believers will have in interpreting these signs as direct manifestations of God’s will. The next three stanzas all transpose the manifestations of Christ’s coming into his presence here among us. Stanza four declares the self-emptying of Christ by juxtaposing the image of the Son of Man coming in a cloud with great power and glory (Luke 21:27) with the least of the brothers with whom Jesus identifies in Matthew 25:40. Stanza five connects the presence of the preaching and teaching Christ to Elijah’s experience of the presence of God in 1 Kings 19:11-13. Stanza six associates Christ’s healing miracles with his presence in those who suffer, again evoking Matthew 25:40. (Communities that are pressed for time may omit stanzas five and six without losing the progress of thought.) The final stanza alludes to Jesus’ command to his disciples in Luke 21:28, with the prayer request that we recognize Christ’s coming in our daily encounters.

Copyright 2009, The Jan Michael Joncas Trust. All rights reserved.



fr. jan michael joncas

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas is an internationally acclaimed scholar, theologian, author and composer. He has been member of the University of St. Thomas community for 40 of his 60 years, and was recently named a university artist-in-residence and fellow of St. Thomas’ Center for Catholic Studies.

Copyright 2009, The Jan Michael Joncas Trust. All rights reserved.

Forest scene photo: Valeriy Andrushko

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas