Saturday, December 17, 2016

From My Nature Journal: A Nature Hymn in an Unlikely Place

It is another of the truly great Christian songs of all time – Joy to the World – with music and lyrics written by two of the greatest composers of all time, George Fredrik Handel (of Messiah fame) and Isaac Watts. Joy to the World is perhaps the most well known Christmas carol in the English language, but is verifiably the most published. My favorite rendition of it happens to be by The Canadian Brass in a recording given to me years ago by my friend Lowell; but since I cannot find that on YouTube, press here to listen to the classic version by the Percy Faith Orchestra. You have my permission to ignore the cheesy picture.

It is only in recent years, however, that I have appreciated the nature verses.

The nature verses? Yes. It’s a nature hymn in an unlikely place – the Christmas section of the hymnal. Perhaps something was lost to me in the song’s familiarity, or in the simple joy of singing something so magnificent at such a wonderful time of the year. But the more I ponder the nature verses the more astounding the song seems to me, absolutely brilliant lyrics. Enjoy the whole prayer of praise, but note especially the lyrics highlighted:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing!

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy!

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground:
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found!

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love!

It is really good theology, actually. The last line of the first verse and all of verse two remind us that all heaven and all nature join in the celebration. In other words, we sing, and, somehow, all creation sings with us: Jesus said that if the people failed to praise him, the very rocks would not be able to hold back (Luke 19:40); Isaiah said that the trees of the field would clap their hands as God led us forth with such joy (Isaiah 55:12); and Paul said that all of creation even waits as on tiptoe to see the marvelous coming of the King of Kings (Romans 8:19)!

And what’s that in verse three about a curse? You have to go all the way back to Genesis 3 for that one: the curse is the woe to the world that came with Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden, and the salvation of the promised Messiah is the curse’s breaking as ‘far as the curse is found.’ Add to all this the fact that Watts was said to have had Psalm 98 in mind when he wrote the lyrics, and it is no wonder that they have lost nothing of their richness over the three centuries since their writing.

I don’t know about you but I will sing this song lustily this season, thrilled with these thoughts. As you sing it, too, imagine all of creation joined in praise along with you!

Blessed Advent!
~~RGM, December 14 2016,
Reprinting an earlier post

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