Let All Mortal Flesh


Sometimes, the best thing to do is to shut the heck up. And too often, that is really hard to do!

We get used to the constant buzz of the sound of life lived in the 21stcentury. We’ve got radios in our homes and cars—and sometimes, stuck inside our ears. There are telephones in our pockets or attached to our purses. Cars that backfire, coffee makers that sing, washing machines that chime when the cycle is finished—to say nothing of the mechanical noise created at every stage of the cleansing process! Even my low-energy light-bulbs give off a strange sound from time to time.

Noise is everywhere. All. The. Time.

If, by chance, we should find ourselves someplace where the everyday noises of life fade to zero, far too many of us discover that real silence is kinda scary. It makes us uneasy, uncomfortable, anxious. This is weird! What’s wrong? I can’t hear anything but my own heartbeat, my own breathing.

Well, yes. Exactly.

Sometimes, that is precisely what we need to be listening to—the very center of ourselves, the blood coursing through our veins, the air filtering through our lungs. Sometimes we need to listen to our own life.  Because learning to hear ourselves being alive is how we encounter the God who made us, the God who loves us, the God who chose to become one of us—one of us, with a heart that beat and lungs that breathed earth’s air.

Ever since I learned of this month’s theme, silence, I have been pondering one of my favorite Christmas hymns. It’s a hymn that commands us to be quiet. The original version of these lyrics is one of the oldest groups of words used in worship that we’ve got. Written in Syriac about 275 A.D., this text was translated into Greek and used as part of the communion liturgy in the early church. Then an Anglican clergyman living in the 19thcentury translated them into English and set them to an old French carol. The English is old-fashioned and seems slightly stilted to our ears, but the power of this message is real and relevant and singularly important.

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 darkness clears 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.”

Read these words through, and read them out loud, if you can. This is one of the most brilliant pictures of the incarnation I’ve ever read and the only possible human response to the reality described here is . . . standing in silence.

And fear and trembling are a part of the picture, aren’t they?  So if learning to be truly silent makes you nervous, you’re in good company. Because here’s the truest thing I know about real, honest silence: it invites us to step into the holy. It invites us into the holy that is all around us, all the time. But there is so much noise going on, we can’t hear it, we can’t sense it, we can’t see it.

Christ our God descended—did you get that? This is what makes the faith we share so unique, so remarkable, and so deeply life-affirming. The very host of heaven—rank on rank of them!—pave the way for this remarkable downward trajectory. Why? Because the powers of hell itself begin to vanish as Christ our God steps into our humanity, our humanity, a humanity which God embraces, inhabits, sanctifies and then offers up as nourishment, as salvation, as gift, as grace.

So, please. Take the time and make the space to be away from the noises of your life, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and do it on a regular basis. Find a space somewhere—a backyard, a city park, your own closet—where you can screen out as much of the extraneous noise of your life as you possibly can. And then tune into what’s left—your heartbeat, your breath. Realize again that Jesus had a heartbeat, that Jesus had a set of lungs, that Jesus was one of us. And know, way down deep in the marrow of your bones, that the body you’ve been given—no matter its age or physical condition—is holy ground.

Can you hear the host of heaven singing their alleluias to the risen, glorified, ascended Christ? The one who still inhabits a human body?

Kinda takes your breath away, doesn’t it?