Vol. 30 Num. 49
“Don’t forget to read the words you sing!”
First Published: December 11, 1997
Our worship will be chock full of familiar and beloved carols this month. I hope that you will all use the occasion not merely to enjoy the sentiment but to reflect upon the profound theology contained in these hymns. Our singing ought to be lifted up to God, from hearts filled with gratitude for grace and from hearts praising Him for the glorious gift of the Incarnation.
So as you sing well-known songs and tunes this month, make a double effort to concentrate on the words. Aim to understand them and to “make them your own” as you sing to the Lord. You may even want to discuss the words around the dinner table at home or during family worship. The reflection will not only prove to be of personal encouragement: it will also help you in your intelligent and fervent participation in corporate worship.
Our “Hymn of the Month” will be the ancient song “Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” It comes from the Liturgy of St. James and dates from the 5th century. The beautiful (indeed, haunting) melody to which we sing this carol is French in origin and probably was composed in the seventeenth century. No doubt most of us have heard this song sung frequently at Christmas time, but in the Scottish Psalter and Church Hymnary it is also recommended as a communion hymn.
The first stanza bids us stand in awe and silent reverence as we contemplate the incomprehensible mystery of the Incarnation, and calls on us to give our full homage to Christ. The second stanza reflects on the paradox of Christ’s eternity and birth, and the reality and necessity of his true humanity. The third stanza pictures a myriad of heavenly beings preparing the way for his descent from heaven’s halls to earth, and reminds us that came in the flesh to vanquish the forces of hell. The final stanza asks us to remember that Isaiah has told us that the seraphim continually cry holiness and praise to him. Should we not join them in wonder and bafflement in exclaiming “Alleluia” to our Incarnate Lord?
May we be good “carolers” for our gracious and sovereign Lord this Christmas.