“Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing…”
Isaac Watts, an English Congregationalist, composed those words in 1719 as a paraphrase to Psalm 98, which was written years before the birth of Jesus. And yet, Christians the world over relegate the hymn to their list of regular Christmas songs. We love these hymns for the nostalgia they bring of Christmases past. However, I wonder if it may be time for us to reimagine these hymns that speak to the ideas of anticipation and praise into other seasons of our spiritual life?
Verse four of the Psalm is a reminder for us to continue to make a “joyful noise” and for all the earth to sing praises of joy. Unfortunately, we often spend much of our energy in lament as we emphasize the world’s misfortunes rather than speaking joyfully of our accomplishments, no matter the size. To sing of joy, peace, and love as things we have right now seems contradictory to the social normalization of fear, despair, and loathing.
I’ve heard it said many times over how Christians are Easter People, seeing our beloved teacher losing his earthly life to be reborn into a heavenly being. We live out that story as a way of reinventing our own spiritual life that moves into actions of justice, peace, and Godly love toward one another. But maybe in the midst of that we’re missing something important that lives in the Advent season. Perhaps by the blessings of hope, peace, joy and love, the birth story, which is also our personal birth story, we should consider the anticipation and exhilaration that comes from singing Advent and Christmas hymns not just during that particular season, but all year long.
So many of these Christmas hymns, even with their archaic language, remind us of all the blessings we have, all glories that abound around us, all peace that is available and still to come, all angels singing “hallelujahs” — and how we are all beloved children of the Most High.
Joy, joy, joy to the world! For we are one. Let earth receive our gladness as heaven and nature sing. Let every heart push away despair and make room for everlasting Love, as heaven and nature sing. Let the earth receive our good tidings of hope, peace, love, and gratitude as our voices reach to the heavens and repeat in sounds of joy.
Let our hearts and souls shout with Christmas spirit our whole life long, as Love rules the world with truth and grace. Amen.
Rev. Sheri Nelson
Program Director, Outdoor Ministry, Minnesota Conference UCC