Recently we discussed the transitional features of the month of November, how All Saints Day kicks off a sequence of Sundays in calendars both old and new, that increasingly anticipate the season of Advent. You can revisit that here if you need. Today I thought I’d put theory into example – let’s look at a hymn that fits into this time of year.
Behold! the mountain of the Lord is not a hymn that’s super famous, as far as I know. I didn’t pick it with any special interest in mind; it’s simply the hymn appointed for Friday in the week of Proper 26 in this Customary’s daily hymnody plan. As you get toward the back of most hymnals (at least Anglican ones), you start getting into the eschatological stuff – church triumphant, kingdom of God, sabbath rest… themes like that which play perfectly into this season’s thematic features. So that’s where this hymn comes in.
Behold! the mountain of the Lord
In latter days shall rise
On mountain-tops above the hills,
And draw the wond’ring eyes.
To this the joyful nations round,
All tribes and tongues, shall flow;
“Up to the hill of God,” they’ll say,
“And to his house we’ll go.”
This is a pretty close approximation of Isaiah 2:2-3 and Micah 4:1-2. As I recall, Micah picked up a lot of Isaiah’s themes and ideas in his prophetic writings, so the close similarities between those two texts should be no surprise. Let’s continue.
The beam that shines from Zion shill
Shall lighten ev’ry land;
The King who reigns in Salem’s tow’rs
Shall all the world command.
Among the nations he shall judge;
His judgments truth shall guide;
His scepter shall protect the just,
And quell the sinner’s pride.
Micah 4:3 and Isaiah 2:4 are particular inspirations behind these two stanzas. Curiously, this hymn is so faithful to the biblical text that it never actually names the King as Jesus for us. Hopefully that much is obvious to the singer. The section header, KINGDOM OF GOD, in this hymnal, helps direct our interpretation of these words too – we’re directed to look past earthly-kingdom fulfillments of the Prophets’ words, and look to the heavenly kingdom that Christ is inaugurating even now in his Church.
No strife shall rage, nor hostile feud
Disturb those peaceful years;
To plowshares men shall beat their swords,
To pruning hooks their spears.
No longer hosts*, encount’ring hosts,
Shall crowds of slain deplore;
They hang the trumpet in the hall,
And study war no more.
Come then, O house of Jacob! come
To worship at his shrine;
And, walking in the light of God,
With holy beauties shine.
Wrapping up with adaptations of Isaiah 2:4-5 and Micah 4:3 and 5, we celebrate the great peace of heaven in the age to come.
In a culture that is much better at writing and singing celebratory Christmas music, hymns like these, which draw out forward-looking Advent themes, are very helpful for us. Lyrics like these are meditations on the Last Things, the Christian goal, the telos** of creation. And that’s a great way to get into the Advent spirit!
* hosts means armies
** telos is Greek for end (in the sense of a purpose, or goal)