Hymns of Advent: Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Text: Liturgy of St. James; tr. Gerard Moultrie, 1864
Tune: PICARDY, French 17th c.

This Advent hymn is my new favorite. It has everything. Past and Present. Heaven and Earth. Son of God and Son of Man. And an incredible reverence that I sometimes lose this time of year.

“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”
All the presents, food, stocking stuffers, family gatherings – yes, even church services – those can be earthly minded. Those things have been filling my mind lately. I want to give my full homage – or worship – to the God who descended to earth. And just stop and be quiet for a moment. Maybe even tremble a little at the awe-inspiring moment in history that we celebrate at Christmas time.
“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”

Jesus is the King of heaven. He is the Lord of the earth. But he came to earth as a man – and not just a man, but a baby. Last night I was giving my six-month-old a bath and I was struck by the realization that Jesus was once a crawling, drooling, chubby little person. Amazing and completely unexpected.

“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 darkness clears away.”

After Jesus was born, angels appeared to some shepherds. These angels proclaimed the news to the shepherds – and it’s recorded in the Bible for the world to know as well. A huge number of heavenly host shouted it out – “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14) When I think about all the evil and injustice and suffering all around us, I long for the peace proclaimed by the angels that night. Their message brings hope to a broken world just as much today as that night so many years ago.

“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!”

And then a glimpse of heaven where Jesus Christ sits on the throne surrounded by ceaseless worship. If you’re going to church tonight or tomorrow, this risen, exalted powerful Jesus is why we gather, why we sing, why we hope and why we celebrate. Merry Christmas, friends!


Hymns of Advent: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Text: Charles Wesley, 1745
Tune: HYFRYDOL, Rowland H. Prichard, 1830

Advent is a season of waiting – but for what? Jesus was born a long time ago. He already lived. And died. And rose from the dead. And ascended into heaven. What exactly are we waiting for? Why are we asking Jesus to come when he already came?

Advent looks backto a time when the people of God eagerly awaited a Messiah. There is a thread of promise and hope that begins in the very beginning of the Bible and weaves its way through the history and poetry and prophetic books of God’s word. God’s people waited and watched for that hope to be realized.

And the Jesus came. That is the reason we celebrate Christmas and the waiting is one thing we remember during Advent.

But there is another period of waiting that we are living in right now. Just after Jesus was taken up into heaven, two men dressed in white mysteriously appeared to them and gave them a message. They said:

“why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11)

That’s where we find ourselves today. It is not enough to stand around idly, gawking at the sky as we wait. There is so much to do. So many people who haven’t heard the news that Jesus Christ was born to set his people free. But we are still waiting. We can be eagerly and actively anticipating the return of Jesus, and Advent is the perfect time to remember.

I’ve been thinking and praying this passage from Revelation 22 this week:

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes to take the free gift of water of life.

Amen. Come again, thou long expected Jesus!

Hymns of Advent: On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry

For the intro to this Advent series, click here

Text: Charles Coffin, 1736
Tune: based on PUER NOBIS, 15th c
Refrain & Arrangement: Rachel Henkle, 2014

Click here to listen… lyrics are at the bottom of this post.

This season is full of preparations. Have you finished your shopping yet? Marked all of your Christmas parties on your calendar? Put up your decorations? Have you listened to the music, visited Santa with your kids, sent out Christmas cards, watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and orchestrated all of your gatherings to be sure to spend adequate and meaningful time with grandparents, in-laws and friends? Well you better hurry. There are only 20 days left…

Advent is all about preparations, too. The Advent hymn I have been thinking about the past few days gets its title from a curious character, John the Baptist. He showed up on the banks of the Jordan River wearing camel’s hair clothes and eating locusts and wild honey. Read about his parents and his birth in Luke 1, and his ministry in Luke 3:1-20. John’s ministry was focused on one thing: preparing the way for Jesus. The way he told people to prepare was to repent – or turn from their lives of sin and self-reliance. Then he pointed them to Jesus, the ultimate source of salvation and life.

The hymn calls us to “awake and harken” – or wake up and listen up. John’s message is for us, too. I’m asking God this question today: What do I need to do to prepare my heart this Advent season? As I’m hurriedly trying to make the season festive, fun and memorable for myself and my family, I am in danger of missing the fact that there are people and places in desperate need of a Savior and the hope and healing he brings. I think God is telling me to learn from John the Baptist. First, to repent of my sins and return to Jesus. Then, point others to him. So that is my prayer for myself and for anyone hoping for a meaningful Advent season – Prepare our hearts, Oh God!

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and harken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings!
Then cleansed be every life from sin:
make straight the way for God within,
and let us all our hearts prepare
for Christ to come and enter there.
We hail you as our Savior, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward.
Without your grace we wasted away
like flowers that wither and decay.
Stretch forth your hand, our health restore,
and make us rise to fall no more.
O let your face upon us shine
and fill the world with love divine.
All praise to you, eternal Son,
whose advent has our freedom won,
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Spirit, evermore.

Hymns of Advent

We have a rule in our family that we must wait to listen to Christmas music until the day after Thanksgiving. It seems like a long time to wait since the Christmas decorations and displays go up in the stores before the Halloween paraphernalia is even put away. Growing up, I remember how long it seemed before the waiting was over and we could finally open our presents. Which is what Advent anticipation is all about, right…?
I recognized the same sentiment in my 3-year-old, who has been asking if it is Christmas yet since the day after her birthday. In August. I have to admit that we broke our own family rule because of her infectious excitement – we bought and listened to the new Rend Collective Christmas album about a week early. She was so thrilled when we put our tree and decorations up this past weekend that she was squealing and running laps around the house. At one point she asked me, “can we get our presents now?” I know she was thinking that surely all the waiting she had already done meant that the long anticipated event was finally here. Imagine her disappointment when I tried to explain that it wasn’t actually Christmas yet, but only the Christmas season. 
This past Sunday I was looking through various hymnals looking for a good accompaniment for O Come, O Come Emmanuel to play in church, when I realized that there were a good chunk of hymns in the “Advent” section that I have never heard or sung before. We seem to be in such a rush to get to the good stuff – Joy to the World, Hark the Herald Angels, Silent Night – that we skip right over the hymns of preparation and anticipation that come during the four weeks before. There are some hymns that we probably don’t sing because they just aren’t very catchy (or good…) like O Christ! Come Back to Save Your Folk / Burst through the clouds with one clean stroke. I can see why that one never caught on… But some of the others might be just what I need to encounter the coming King in a new and fresh way.
Because I have a kid that is soaking in every detail of Christmas season this year, I want to try to observe Advent in a meaningful way. I’ve found that if I want anything to rub off on my kids, I have to first experience it myself, which is what I hope to do. If you’re unfamiliar with my blog, I’ll be posting some arrangements of Advent hymns that I’ll try to record in the rare quiet moments I find in the coming days and weeks. I’m not sure where this journey will lead, but you’re invited to stay tuned and hopefully find some space to encounter the living Christ who came to be Emmanuel, God with us.