The opening verse recalls Messiah’s famous, bouncy aria “Rejoice Greatly.”
The last verse, however, exhorts not rejoicing, but silence.
Silence, all mankind,
in the presence of the LORD!
for he stirs forth from his holy dwelling.
This recalls a classic hymn that goes back to the fourth or fifth century:
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!"
Both rejoicing and silence are appropriate reactions to the coming of the Lord.
It is natural that believers rejoice at the Lord’s coming and that disbelievers keep silent, as today’s first reading indicates.
Yet a certain silence is appropriate also for believers, for the power and the triumph is Lord’s and our rejoicing is in him, not in ourselves, and although we have been gifted with faith and divine adoption, we are also finite beings contemplating infinite majesty and power.
And so we rejoice and keep silence at the coming of the Lord: sometimes rejoicing externally, sometimes rejoicing inwardly.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, whose memory we celebrate in a special way today, exemplified this combination of rejoicing and silence.
Her Magnificat (of which we hear a part in one of the Gospel readings provided today – Luke 1:39-47) is of course a canticle of great joy.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
Yet there are also times when Mary is quiet and contemplative (e.g., Luke 2:19):
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
On this day and in this season, may you and I both rejoice outwardly and keep silence in contemplation of the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(adapted from a previous post)