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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

By Rev. Pamela Leach, associate pastor

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded, for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary, as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture, in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish as the shadows clear away.

At his feet the six winged seraph, cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry,
“Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Lord most high!”

Have you listened to this week's hymn? Have you closed your eyes and let the minor key carry you into the mystery of the heavenly vision painted by the lyrics? Though I find this hymn draws me into the anticipation of Advent, several years ago my children would have said, "Turn it off; that's sad music!" They might have even considered it scary, especially as the lyrics call us to stand with "fear and trembling." Instead of sad or scary, consider this hymn suspenseful as when a long-anticipated stage show is about to begin - the spotlights swirl through a smoke-filled stage, and everyone sits in alert silence waiting for the story to unfold.

Only this is not a show; this is our very lives as Christians. In the busyness of this season, we are reminded by these ancient words to be still and keep our lives centered not on the things of this world but on the work of heaven which comes and touches earth through one person’s presence.

We know this mystery of heaven coming to earth, of God becoming human, as the Incarnation. John’s gospel names Jesus as the Word of God who was one with God in the beginning, who became flesh and lived among us (1:1-14). Lest we make Jesus just one of us - a baby in a manger, our friend, a teacher - we are reminded that he is also the eternal King of kings for whom the very host of heaven (the army of angels) prepares the way.

Originally found in the fourth century Liturgy of St. James, these words led the faithful in preparation for communion.[1] It is fitting then that we gather for communion this second Sunday in Advent and are reminded to prepare our hearts to receive the one who gives the “faithful his own self for heavenly food.”

May this time at his table serve also as an invitation to carve out some time in Advent to sit still and fix our eyes upon the splendor, the radiance of heaven - the only hope for this world. Into our silence may the praise of the heavenly host ring, singing, “Alleluia, Lord most high!”

•   Reflect on the vision of heaven found in either Isaiah 6:1-8 or Revelation 4. What impact do you think these glimpses or heaven are meant to have on the faithful?

•   How are you making room for silent reverence this Advent season?

•   How does your home, your schedule, your life reflect your understanding of the mystery of this season, the mystery of the incarnation?

Prayer:

Light of light, come clear away our shadows. Make clear for us the truth that above all human activity, festive or sorrowful, you are busy loving this world. Teach us to put aside the distractions of the season to prepare our hearts for you; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Advent Hymn:

Advent Hymn for week 2


[1] C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church, accessed November 12, 2016, http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-let-all-mortal-flesh-keep-silence.