I know, I know, I missed week one. I’m sorry about that, but glad to inform you that I have finished classes and one of my four finals for this semester. By Wednesday I will be done done done with this term and that will mark the halfway point of this degree and sweet Jesus but this can’t finish quickly enough. I’m sorry for both of us, Reader, that this blogging journey into seminary has been so frustrating and sorrowful when the journey leading into that call was so frustrating and hopeful. We shall see what next semester brings.
On to the song, which you may be rather confused by because this is definitely not a song that makes the list of Christmas CDs or Spotify playlists. Technically Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence is not a Christmas hymn—in the United Methodist hymnal, it’s in the “Eucharist” section (and its connection to that has apparently stirred no small amount of controversy; here’s a really good overview of why tying the Incarnation and the Eucharist together can get tricky, if you’re into that sort of thing). But it is, in its way, a Christmas song, filled with shock and wonder at the Incarnation. “King of kings, Yet born of Mary, / As of old on earth He stood, / Lord of lords, In human vesture” begins the second verse. The whole thing is just flummoxed by the God of everything coming to be in human form and is fairly demanding that we and all of creation stand in the dumbfounded awe that deserves.
It’s a patchwork quilt of a piece: the lyrics are first found in the Divine Liturgy of St. James from the fourth century, so these words (originally Greek) are about 1,700 years old. The tune is much newer—only about 400 years old, and the combination didn’t happen until about a hundred years ago. Positively a toddler in hymn years! But it has that sort of solemn majesty to it (especially when done with a choir and organ) that comes with a lot of Advent hymns, the weight of it settling on your solar plexus as you realize God was born.
I mean, when I sit down with that fact my mind kind of gets blown, and I’ve been a Christian for at least ten years now. But at the heart of who we are in this faith is a God Who climbed into human skin, Who saw with human eyes and heard with human ears, Who grew grey hair and had callouses and headaches. We have a God Who touched things, who felt the roughness of unhewn wood and the chill of cellar-kept wine on His tongue. We have a God Who stretched newly-formed fingers into the broad palm of His mother and chuckled at being alive and discovering things like toes.
Reader, the Incarnation is SO INCREDIBLY WEIRD.
Because there’s all that and inside that somehow is GOD. God, Who spoke the Earth into being; Who took a handful of mud and a spare rib and created people. That God decided sure, Let’s go through the mess of humanizing Myself by putting Myself together one cell at a time in Mary’s womb and then tumbling into the world in a mass of blood and fluid and hay that stuck to everything, screaming to the world that I have come but I can’t talk yet. That God decided to learn how to walk. That God wanted to know what hunger felt like, and didn’t go hungry for a day like a vacation but lived as a vagabond and fasted for weeks; wanted to know what pain felt like and didn’t hit His hand with a hammer but allowed Himself to be scourged and beaten.
Because that God wanted to hang out with us so badly that He broke death in half by living.
I don’t…I don’t even know what to do with that information except exactly what this hymn asks: keep silence. No freaking wonder “the host of Heaven spreads its vanguard” and “the six winged seraph, / Cherubim with sleepless eye, / Veil their faces to the presence”. Who can stand in the presence of such love and sacrifice? Who can say anything other than “alleluia” when faced with such devotion?
Come, fellow mortal. Journey deeper into Advent with me, following the Baptist who calls out to us that One greater than he is coming—and boy howdy was he right.
But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:20, CEB)