Hymn 80, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
“Be silent before the sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. He has consecrated those He has invited.” Zephaniah 1:7
This will not be the song they play on the radio between “Frosty the Snowman” and “Jingle Bells.” You’re not likely to hear it on the radio at all. It is what we used to call “high-church music.” I never cared for the formality of high-church music until the choir learned an arrangement of “Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded.” I expected the language of the hymn to make it less accessible, but instead it elevated the message. This type of music reminds us of the majesty and glory of God. Study these songs as you would study the Psalms—without the organ or orchestra—and you begin to appreciate the powerful message of these ancient hymns.
The teacher in me must tell you that the text of this hymn is probably the oldest non-scripture text for any hymn in common usage. It is from the Liturgy of Saint James and dates to the 4th century. The result is a hymn-text that is breathtakingly reverent and worshipful.
This hymn is homage to the incarnation of the Son of God as described in John 1:14. “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We are admonished to stand in reverent silence as we reflect on the meaning of a Holy God leaving His heavenly throne and coming to us in the form of a helpless baby in order to bring us the salvation that we could not receive any other way.
The second and third verses continue to reflect the heavenly significance of the holy birth. They speak of the heavenly host singing praises and worshiping Jesus as He descends from heaven to earth, bringing with Him the light that defeats the forces of hell.
“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5 NIV)