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.
Revived during the 19th-century, the language of this poignantly haunting hymn comes from one of the earliest Christian liturgies still in existence. It paints a vision of the triumphant return of Christ and our relationship to it.
What Jesus’ own people did not know, we do. We know what God’s arrival means. It means a world turned upside down and our lives transformed. In fact, the whole of creation reborn. The Jews in ancient Palestine looked for a leader to shake the very foundations of their contemporary worlds, one that would bring this form of pageantry with the first arrival of the Messiah. They got so caught up in the minutia and all they were expecting to see – that they missed it.
This song is essential to the season of Advent for two key reasons. One is that it teaches that a healthy respect should be given to our preparation for Christ’s arrival – both at Christmas and, more importantly, when Christ returns. Second, as this hymn displays the triumphant return of Christ, it uses some of the same language that Jesus’ own people believed about the first arrival of the Messiah. Thus, the hymn draws us back in time to listen again in silence, to open our minds, and to stand ready to serve the Messiah who was, is, and will come again.
We are the followers of this paradoxical One: 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. We know what we are called to do: things our Lord did because he was the King who first gave himself over for us.
We know. Therefore, we should do as the song suggests, so that we can anticipate the day when: 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.
Reverse Advent Calendar: Since many of our local food banks have a better understanding of our neighbors’ needs than we do, consider putting away money every day of Advent. Then donate it to your local food bank to support their ministry to provide not only food, but also the healthiest options possible to the hungry in our midst.