Advent and Christmas are together a wonderful season of worship in the Church. The singing of Advent hymns and Christmas carols is a particularly enjoyable tradition. This year, Vince and I thought it would be good to highlight one hymn or carol each week to point out some of the deeper meanings of the words we sing in our worship of God, who sent to us His Son Jesus, our Emmanuel.
This week we highlight the wonderful hymn, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence comes from the prayer at the opening of the Eucharist in the Liturgy of St. James, found in both Greek and Syriac in the mid-4th century. It was translated by Gerard Moultrie in 1864, and is based on the Scripture text Habakkuk 2:20, But the Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him. This text is literally a prayer that was set by the Oxford Movement translators who valued these prayers enough for their rich devotional messages to have them translated into the vernacular and set to beautiful tunes for use in the church. The text vividly illustrates the incarnation, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ of Himself for His people, and the heavenly hosts and angels singing His praise in heaven. We have the opportunity to join the heavenly hosts as we lift our voices in praise for the amazing gift of our Lord Jesus Christ; not only as a babe in Bethlehem, but as our Lord and Savior! The tune, Picardy, is thought to be a folk song that originated in the 17th century from the province of France by the same name, and was originally the setting of Jesus Christ s’habille en pauvre (literally, Jesus Christ wears poor, but typically is titled, The Ballad of Jesus Christ). It is a hauntingly beautiful melody and was set by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1906 specifically for this hymn. It is found at hymn 193 in The Trinity Hymnal.