Christmas and Communion: Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

“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 descending
Comes our homage to demand.”


Bethlehem was an unlikely place for a King to be born. But Micah prophesied of this little town ushering in a newborn King:

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
   who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
   one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
   from ancient days.” – Micah 5:2

God himself would come to this little town, inhabit flesh and blood, and then offer it up as a holy sacrifice for us. He was born into “the house of bread” (Bethlehem), so he could become the bread of life for us (John 6:35). Bread conjures up ideas of provision, nourishment, and life. A house of bread seems to connote something plentiful and abundant. Jesus told us that his body would be like bread, broken for us on the cross (Luke 22:19). And now, we use bread as a reminder of his broken offering. The bread of life offered in Jesus’ broken body is plentiful and abundant; it’s a storehouse full. His broken body is our provision, nourishment, and life.

Not only did God come in a body, but he came in blood. He came to earth in flesh and blood to offer up his flesh and blood. It’s no coincidence that Jesus introduced the disciples to their first communion at a Passover meal. The disciples would have been familiar with the story of Moses and their ancestors in Egypt: when God sent the final plague that would take the lives of every firstborn Egyptian male, but the people of Israel would be passed over through the blood of a lamb. They were spared by the death of another. So, when Jesus compares wine to his blood at a Passover meal, he’s initiating a new covenant (Luke 22:20); a covenant bonded by the blood of a better sacrifice – the Lamb of God. No one could fathom the ancient mystery that God would be the one to give “his own self for heavenly food.”

That truth that God himself “came in human vesture” to offer up his body and blood for our eternal provision and life calls for our holy silence.

Habakkuk 2:20 says,
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.”

We fear and tremble before our God, not only because he is holy and great, but because he is good. We marvel at his grace offered to us through the body and blood of Jesus. He is in his holy temple, high and lifted up as the one true God, and at this we marvel. But because of this we also wonder at his lowliness in Bethlehem. Remembering that silent night should make us silent in awe before a holy God on high descending to us “with blessing in his hand.” We remember this blessing when we partake in communion; when we remember the body and the blood. So, let all mortal flesh keep silence.

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

 

 

 

 

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Sorrow and Joy at Christmas Time

Many Christmas songs are solely exalting, rejoicing, and celebrating – full of holly and jolly, fa la la la la’s, and jingle bells. But this Latin hymn, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, doesn’t give us a one-sided view of life; it holds a beautiful tension between sorrowing and rejoicing. The song reminds us that we are in the already, but not yet of God’s redemptive plan. Our Savior has come, but he is coming again, so we wait and long. He has paid the penalty for our sin, but the effects of sin are still active in our hearts and in our world.

The hymn itself is mournful and dark sounding, because of its lower, richer tones. The beat is slow and methodical. The lyrics open with the people of Israel waiting in “lonely exile”. Scripture is clear about their exile in Egypt and then in Babylon, but their physical exile was, and still is, a picture of their spiritual exile. God allowed them to be taken captive, because he was punishing them. The Israelites needed to repent, but they never seemed to learn their lesson. They were like sheep without a Shepherd; wandering and lost. Their physical exile was meant to point them to a deeper need in their hearts; a need to be ransomed from their dark inner captivity.

Today, we are not like the Israelites, in the sense that our Emmanuel (meaning “God with us”) has already come. We already have the hope that the Israelites longed to see. The Son of God has appeared to us. He was with us in bodily form on this earth and crushed his body on a tree to redeem our whole being. Though he cried out, “It is finished!” it’s clearly evident that things still aren’t perfect. So we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing. Our Emmanuel has come and fully secured our eternal salvation. But we still wait for our final deliverance: for everything to be made right, for our sin and tears to be gone, for the banishment of suffering and pain, for our bodies to be resurrected, for the earth to be made new.

We can still cry out with the Israelites in our own earthly exile, because we still wait for the day when we’ll see him face to face and be with him forever. We wait for “death’s dark shadow to be put to flight” completely and finally. We yearn for the day when “our sad divisions cease” and the King of Peace will complete his full plan of redemption. We have reason to lift up our eyes and rejoice, because he will come. He did it once, and he’ll do it again.

This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption. – John Piper

This is one of the short devotional meditations found in the free e-book Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

Emmanuel: Readings for the Advent Season

For the last month and a half or so I’ve been working on creating content for this e-book with the help of Katie Tumino. (Ellie Eugenia worked on the design and layout.) Inside are short devotional meditations inspired by Christmas hymns. I wrote two myself, as well as Katie and Ellie, but we also had a few other contributors writing their own pieces.

We’re offering it for free! 

Get it here.

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