I’m a church music director, so during Advent season I regularly receive comments like “How you holding up this season?” and “I know you must be so ready for December to be over.” Yes, there are many services and concerts to be prepared and hundreds of people to be coordinated.
But the massive effort is part of what makes Advent one of my favorite times of year. I aim to enjoy every minute of the special services and wholeheartedly participate in worship.
We all have extra events in December. Whether for work, school, church, or the community, seasonal social opportunities keep us occupied. We assume everyone is “crazy busy.” It’s a noisy season, one of music and cheer.
To enjoy the season to its fullest, then, one of the most significant disciplines we can practice both individually and corporately is “Christ-centered silence.”
This discipline always hits me early in the Advent season when we sing the fourth-century plainchant, “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.
Five Meditations on Silence
Every line of this single verse communicates biblical truths worthy of our quiet meditation during this Advent season.
Line 1: Let all mortal flesh keep silence
Every one of us is mortal. And our mortality has staggering eternal consequences—for both the believer and the unbeliever. This line rightly beckons us, then, to keep silent.
What a difficult task for a people given to words! Yet, as the Victorian poet Christina Rosetti (1830–1894) observed, “Silence is more musical than any song.” At times this is doubtless true. We can easily miss God’s “still, small voice” amid the clamor, especially in our music-making (Ps. 46:10; Eccl. 5:2). Notes and words can enrich our souls, but meditative silence can also offer us spiritual refreshment—which we desperately need this time of year. Silence gives us space and time to meditate on the scriptural words we sing.
Line 2: And with fear and trembling stand
Christ’s coming is the focus of Advent, and we should anticipate it “with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Advent, like Lent, is a penitent season where we enter into the story of Christ’s redeeming love for humanity. It focuses our hearts and minds on our need for a Savior. The worldy approach either jumps to the joyous birth or ignores the true meaning of Christmas outright. We must not.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us:
The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes. Christians rejoice!
Line 3: Ponder nothing earthly minded
This is a powerful reminder for all of us, especially those who serve as church musicians. Christ’s person and work inspires our music—and our silence. His honor is our goal. Let’s not be distracted by the world’s standards of performance as we prepare and perform. Most of all, let’s offer our music to God for his glory alone.
Line 4: For with blessing in his hand
The song promises great blessings from God for those who wait. Christ’s Advent is for us. Let’s enjoy the blessings of this unspeakable gift, especially in our music-making and worship. We can easily forget that. While we seek to bless others with music, may we be awed and edified by the truths we proclaim.
Lines 5 and 6: Christ our God to earth descending comes our homage to demand
The Son of God’s arrival on earth demands our reverence and silence in worship. This may seem counterintuitive for musicians—after all, we are called to lead in making noise—but silence in the context of worship is an important discipline. Making music is the easy part; for most, silence doesn’t come naturally.
Make It a Priority
We must make room for silence in corporate worship. I’ve heard many people attest to the powerful way the Lord has used times of silence to convict, build up, and encourage. Most of our Christian disciplines are countercultural, and our awed silence in the presence of the incarnate God stands contrary to the noisy chaos around us.
In a season where music is everywhere, the observance of silence strengthens the message of our music. Perhaps we’re more prepared to appreciate stilled meditative space because our culture so lacks it. Cultivating Christ-centered stillness in my soul throughout the week has greatly enriched me as I serve my congregation through music.
How do we find time for silence in December? We must make it a priority. Because my family life with four kids is loud, and my job requires me to be with people, I have to deliberately plan moments of silence.
In brief, here are three ways I build worshipful silence into my days. I commend them to musicians in the church, but they can also be valuable for non-musicians in the sound and fury of the season.
- Retreat. Take a day during Advent and go on a personal retreat for prayer and quiet biblical reflection.
- Take long walks. This isn’t walk for exercise; it’s time to breath the cool air and observe God’s handiwork. Slow down and meditate on his Word and his world.
- Visit an empty sanctuary. For those who have access to a church sanctuary where reverence is expected, being alone in a quiet, dark house of worship forces us to be still and silent. It’s a great place to go for moments of reflective, private worship.
Prioritizing Christ-centered silence has become a discipline I have to work to fit in my schedule. It’s not easy or convenient. But the benefits are worth it, especially during seasons of increased noise.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken (Psalm 62:1–2).