1 Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
set your minds on things eternal,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
come our homage to command.
2 King of kings, yet born of Mary,
once upon the earth he stood;
Lord of lords we now perceive him
in the body and the blood.
He has given to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
3 Rank on rank, the host of heaven
stream before him on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
clears the gloom of hell away.
4 At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to his presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”
Hymn #193, Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, is a hymn from the Liturgy of St. James. Dating back to the fifth century, this liturgy is one of the oldest surviving complete liturgies of the Eastern church. The hymn celebrates the coming of Christ, especially focused on His glory and majesty.
This time of year we often focus on the humility and meekness of Christ, and that certainly is a crucial aspect of understanding Him. But too often it seems like people want to stop there, and not consider the other half of His advent, the glorious king coming to throw down all His enemies. People prefer Christmas to Easter for just this reason; they’d rather deal with the child that came for some vaguely positive reason than the risen King who came to establish a kingdom. But the First Advent makes no sense without the Second. The forgiveness of sins is only understood against the backdrop of impending judgment.
So our hymn from the beginning focuses on the awe and majesty of Christ as the conquering King and eternal Lord. All mortal flesh should be silent before Him, in respect for His great power and majesty. The hymn in particular is calling us to this spirit and attitude when we come before Him in worship.
The last line of the first verse is especially powerful- He comes to Earth to demand our homage. We owe Him our worship. Jesus is so often portrayed in the artwork of the modern church as effeminate and passive. He is shown quietly and passively knocking at the door, as if He is merely pleading to be invited in. But this is the Lord who slays all His enemies with a sword, His robe dipped in blood. This is the meaning of the offer of forgiveness—one last chance for amnesty before all the rebels are killed before Him. He has a right to be worshiped and obeyed, and He is not shy about insisting on it.
Given this great majesty and glory, what a wonder that this great king descends to help us with His grace! He is incarnate as a man, and a humble man, a servant. He dies the death of the cross so that He can feed us with Himself. His life, by the power of the Spirit of God, feeds and nourishes those who believe in Him just as our physical bodies are fed with bread. This is the message we read in verse 2.
We therefore ought to worship Him. It is only right, as the heavenly host well know. If angels and saints in heaven worship Christ, and they are far greater than us, ought we not also worship Him? His presence drives away all the powers of hell, freeing earth to be what God created it to be, as John says in Revelation 11:18— when He comes, He will destroy all those “who destroy the earth.”
This final vision, drawn from Revelation, fully impresses on us His great transcendence. The great angels, these magnificent powerful creatures described in the prophets and in Revelation, sit at Jesus’ feet, almost like pets ready to follow His command. One commenter remarked that if we did not know God, we would surely worship angels, and many have. Yet they do His will, and are nothing before Him. What awe and trembling it fills us with to know that one day we will stand before His glorious presence. He will come back to earth in great power and glory, bringing vengeance with Him. On that day we will surely know Him. May we pray to know Him in His grace and kindness before that terrible day comes.