Joy to the World | Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Joy to the World | Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Liturgy Lessons: December 2, 2018 – Advent 1
Musical Introit – O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Call to Worship: Isaiah 60:1-3; Isaiah 9:2-3; Isaiah 12:3-6
Opening Hymn: Joy to the World
Confession of Sin: Psalm 130
Advent Prayer Song: Come, Lord Jesus
Assurance of Pardon: from John 3:16-17 and Isaiah 9:6-7
Hymn of Assurance: Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Advent Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
Congregational Prayers
Reading of the Word
Advent Doxology: The First Noel (last verse)
Sermon: Rev. Nathaniel Thompson
Tithes/Offerings: Kids’ Choir
Supper: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence; O Come All Ye Faithful (vs. 3)
Closing Hymn: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Sung response: Joy to the World (vs. 1)

We now begin the Advent season. The word “Advent” means “to come.” The season of Advent is a month of expectant hope for the coming Messiah. It consists of the four weeks leading up to Christ’s birth. Just like Lent before Easter, it is a season of waiting. But not the sort that one endures at the bus stop or the DMV. Rather, it is a waiting charged with joyful expectancy, like the little girl at Disney World who waits in line to meet Cinderella, or sits on her daddy’s shoulders for an eternity just to see Tinkerbell fly from Snow White’s castle. But our hope is no mere spectacle or fantasy. This is the most wonder-filled miracle, and it is true. We await the moment on which all history is hinged, when the Author of the story wrote himself into its pages as the hero. During Advent we hear scriptural prophecy and promise of a savior, and we revisit the chapters of the story that led up to that glorious night when, as John Milton put it, “that far-beaming blaze of Majesty forsook the courts of everlasting day, and chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.” And so, Advent is a season of hope, peace, and most of all, great Joy. Rejoice greatly. Behold, your king comes. Rejoice!

Joy to the World
Text: Isaac Watts(1719)
Tune: arr. Lowell Mason, with help from Handel

Did you know that the word “carol” comes from a French and Latin word for dancing and spinning? Well, if the purpose of a Christmas carol is to get the soul to “dance and spin” with joy at the celebration of Jesus’s birth, then there is no better example than this song. But, surprisingly, this hymn was not written for Christmas. Rather, Isaac Watts wrote the hymn as a paraphrase of the last five verses in Psalm 98 for his 1719 publication, The Psalms of David Imitated. Verse nine of the psalm reads, “…let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” Watts unapologetically interprets this as a reference to Christ. The theme of “Christ coming” made it an apt hymn to be sung at Christmastime, and it has since become one of the most beloved Christmas carols. There are multiple theories as to where this melody came from. Some believe that Lowell Mason was the arranger; others believe he only changed four notes of an existing tune. What is quite clear, however, is that the tune, ANTIOCH, is derived from various melodies found within Handel’s Messiah. The opening phrase sounds like the chorus “Lift up your heads,” and the last four measures, with the text “heaven and nature sing,” sound like the beginning of “Comfort ye my people.” The tune is thus often attributed to Handel, with Mason as the arranger and combiner of text and tune. Sing through the opening line of the tune, or listen to it, and you will quickly notice that it is simply a descending scale.

What better musical depiction of the incarnation is there than a melody that starts “on high” and ends, inevitably, at the lower octave? And, after that blessed descent, the rest of song leaps forth in a celebratory dance. If Jesus is born the “King of Israel,” then this song that celebrates him is indeed the “King of carols. What a great way to kick off the advent season!

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Text: Liturgy of St. James (5th cent.), paraphrased by Gerard Moultrie (1864)
Tune: French Carol (17th cent.)

Scripture References:
st. 1 = Hab. 2:20, Zech. 2:13
st. 2 = Rev. 19:16, Luke 22:19-20
st. 3 = Matt. 16:27
st.4 = Isa. 6:2-3

Perhaps the irony in the title (singing the words “keep silence”) is a reason why this hymn is not more well-known. Taken on musical merit alone, it is a superior hymn. Hauntingly beautiful and powerfully evocative, the melody entitled PICARDY is a French carol dating from the seventeenth century. The minor tonality of this tune expresses a mystical sense of awe and transcendence. There is also a sense of mystery around the text. Scholars cannot agree on the actual date or source material, but most agree that “Let All Mortal Flesh” may date back to at least the fifth century. offers this description:

“The present text is from the Liturgy of St. James, a Syrian rite in the Greek Orthodox church. It is based on a prayer chanted by the priest when the bread and wine are brought to the table of the Lord. The text expresses awe at Christ’s coming (st. 1) and the mystery of our perception of Christ in the body and blood (st. 2). With images from Isaiah 6 and Revelation 5, it portrays the glory of Christ (sung to by angels) and his victory over sin (st. 3-4). Although it has eucharistic emphasis, the text pictures the nativity of Christ in a majestic manner and in a much larger context than just his birth in Bethlehem. We are drawn into the awe and mystery with our own “alleluias”.

In the Lord’s supper we celebrate the true mystical nature of the incarnation. The word made flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. We encounter the being of infinite worth and value. And we praise him. It has been said that praising God is, in essence, prizing him. All the stuff of Advent, the lights, carols, food, toys, they all are channels of adoration. As you enjoy the lights, you can say a prayer of gratitude for the Light of the world. As you sing the carols, your heart can delight in Him who sings over you with love. And as you enjoy the sweetness of holiday treats, your body can remind you once again that Christ is food for the whole world. Taste and see that he is good. What I am trying to say is that the enjoyment of these things is insufficient if it does not end in grateful praise for the Maker. Worship of God completes the enjoyment. So, we come to worship on Sunday to prize God above all. While we sing this hymn, I invite you to imagine yourself kneeling in the manger in reverent silence to worship the King, born a child to banish the darkness away. May those “alleluias” continue to ring on in our hearts.”

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