This is my second dip into the well that is Red Mountain Music, first time during this Christmas season. If I end up doing this form of a blog for a long enough time, I will probably use every song that Red Mountain has ever made…they are that good.
However, this song is not just another Christmas song and I would guess that many of you have never heard of it before. In my humble opinion, it is the complete package of what a Christmas song should be: rich content, intimate cadence, and majestic focus. And this is the best version of the ancient hymn by far.
True to it’s stated purpose, Red Mountain has resurrected a forgotten classic with vibrant, new sounds. “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” is very old, originating from an offertory hymn/chant in the 4th century AD of the Divine Liturgy of St. James. It was later translated from Greek and put to melody during medieval times. The title is taken from Habakkuk 2:20, but here is the verse in context, starting from verse 18:
“What good is an idol carved by man, or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—a god that can’t even talk!
What sorrow awaits you who say to wooden idols, ‘Wake up and save us!’
To speechless stone images you say, ‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver, but they are lifeless inside.
But the Lord is in His holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.”
The Bible is full of talk like this where the author mocks the ridiculousness of worshiping inanimate objects. But in this text, the smack talk is backed by a reference to God’s answer to empty idol worship. For the people of Israel, God met with them through His very presence within the holy temple. A supernatural answer to “rival” idolatries. But salvation history was utterly defined by what God did in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.
Let our song selection describe the historical union between deity and mortal flesh:
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, Lord Most High!
I honestly cannot think of a better way to call attention to the incarnation of Christ than with these lyrics. Note, specifically, how the last verse recalls the ark of the covenant and the sculpted cherubim that “guarded” the holy of holies – where God’s presence would reside, visited by the Jewish high priest once a year. What is great about this picture is realizing how drastically different it is from seeing God lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes – accessible to human parents, animals, shepherds and other bystanders. From extreme limitation to awesome incarnation!
When you consider how big of a deal it is that God…supreme Being in all the universe…God came down to earth as a babe, it is unfathomable to comprehend. The only and best response is twofold: be silent and then say, “Alleluia!”
Perhaps, this Christmas season is getting a little hairy for you. That is understandable. My challenge to you and to myself is simply this: take ten minutes in silence, just one time over the next couple of weeks, find ten minutes to be still and meditate upon the unbelievable reality that God came to us as flesh and blood. Then, when those ten minutes are over, simply whisper in adoration to Him, “Alleluia…Praise Yahweh!”