Thought for the Day by Alan Griggs (St Chad’s)
Oo- Ah isn’t it a lovely baby!;
Christmas is really the children’s festival
And was made man –that is what we say in the creed.
Yet almost all the religious Christmas cards depict only the birth of Jesus, and ignore the rest of His life and ministry. Perhaps we feel that we have the rest of the Christian year to consider His later life, ministry, death and resurrection. But in the lull just before December 25th it may be a good time to pause and, in the quiet, reflect on what T S Eliot called the God made man in Palestine.
The hymn ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence ‘ is a translation of a hymn written before 451 AD, and was part of what was known as the Liturgy of St James. This James, thought to be the brother of Jesus, and not one of the sons of Zebedee, was the leader of the young Christian church in Jerusalem and its first Bishop, after the original Apostles had moved elsewhere; He was a renowned leader and the liturgy that bears his name was probably written several centuries later in his honour. In the Orthodox liturgy of that time it was used at the Offertory in the Holy Communion service. Copies of the text have survived in both Greek and Syriac.
It -was translated by Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885), a Shrewsbury schoolmaster, around 1850, The tune (‘Picardy’) is a traditional French tune. harmonised by Vaughan Williams in 1901.
‘We come before Christ in silence and in awe to reflect upon the mystery of the Incarnation, joined even by the hosts of heaven to witness the miracle. Singing this hymn, we can imagine ourselves standing in the stable’.
The slow almost chant-like melody in a minor tone, wonderfully expresses the awe and mystery.
Many of the themes are biblical; verse 4 is based on the famous vision of Isaiah in the Temple (Isaiah 6), which is the background of our Sanctus (Holy. Holy, Holy etc) at Holy Communion; but the first verse draws on the words of the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk: (Habakkuk 2: 20):
The Lord is in His holy Temple; Let all the earth be silent before Him
If you ‘Google ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence’ you will be offered several good versions, all with the same tune. Most have a background of choristers.
There is a version by Fernando Ortega which I recommend.
Don’t be put off by the American accent; The photos that accompany the hymn are stunning.