“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” These words are found at the beginning of one of the most beloved Advent/Christmas hymns. They are soon followed by a refrain that includes the phrase “let heaven and nature sing.” It would seem that the writer of this hymn, Isaac Watts, believed that Christ’s coming was meant to bring joy to all of Creation. This is further indicated in the second verse where he talks about “fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.” There’s no way I could ever prove it but I do believe that all of nature joins together in offering praise to the Creator. I also believe that the same Jesus who came to bring joy to people like you and me likewise longs for there to be joy in all aspects of his Creation. The God who created the world is a God of great joy and this same God longs for joy to be found throughout Creation.
Joy has been the theme of the Advent season this past week. I’ve paused a couple of times these past few days to wonder just how much joy the rest of Creation experiences these days. When we stop and consider the impact humans have had on the earth it does, in fact, make you wonder. Does air and water pollution hinder Creation’s joy? Does ever increasing species decimation and destruction of the rain forests cause Creation to experience less joy? Are the effects of climate change at this very moment diminishing the joy that Christ intended for his Creation? Can we even still sing “joy to the world (Creation), the Lord is come” or expect heaven and nature to sing?
Despite what we humans have done to harm the earth and rob it of its intended joy, I still believe that when we stop and consider the coming of Christ long ago there remains cause for “the world” to rejoice and sing. The hope, peace and joy of the world remain tied to the first advent of Jesus. More specifically, they remain tied to the love he both taught and made manifest throughout his life on earth. John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” Here is a needed reminder that God’s love for the world (and those who inhabit it) was the primary reason Jesus was born the first Christmas. If we and the rest of Creation can remember this and reflect on the incomprehensible love that brought Christ into the world there will always be joy.
But as we consider love, the theme for the fourth week of Advent, this coming week, I would suggest that there is to be found in Christ’s teachings a word that has the potential to bring further joy to the rest of Creation. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was he responded with a twofold answer. He said, “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind and with all of your strength.” Then he added, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31) Jesus made sure we understood that what is most important of all is loving God and loving others. If we will take seriously his words it would make an incredible difference in how we relate to the rest of Creation. Think about it…
If we truly love God we are not going to abuse that which God has made. Recognizing that the earth is, in fact, the work of God’s hands and belongs first and foremost to God, we will realize its sacredness and also the need to be diligent stewards of it. If we sincerely love God how could we ever trash the work of God’s hands? How could we take that which belongs to God and treat it as though it was ours to do with as we please? Furthermore, if we honor Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as we love ourselves will that not also affect how we view and use the world’s resources? Our stewardship of the earth starts to look different when we begin to see it as a means of loving others. The bottom line is no longer what I want or what I can get or how much money I can make off of the earth’s resources.
I realize it may sound too simplistic but I would argue that if we took Jesus’ words seriously it would result in a much healthier planet. And perhaps, if we did a really good job of it, we might actually get to hear “heaven and nature sing.”
(I took the pictures shown above near my home in Henderson, Kentucky.)