Dec 4 2013

The Sound of Music

MR 745You may have been hearing a lot about The Sound of Music lately.  Apparently a t.v. version of the famous film has been made, starring Carrie Underwood.  That’s not, however, the reason I’ve chosen this title for today’s blog. Instead I chose it because this is the time of year when I tend to pause and remember that nature itself has a song to be sung.  It is the Advent season and Christmas is quickly approaching.  One of the most popular hymns of Advent is “Joy to the World.”  In it you will find the refrain, “Let heaven and nature sing.”  The hymn writer felt the coming of Christ was cause for singing not just among humans but heaven and nature as well.

MR 778In a few minutes I’ll be going to choir practice.  I don’t usually sing with the choir but each year I like to join them for their Christmas cantata. This year’s cantata is called “Let Heaven and Nature Sing Gloria!”  One of the songs is about the Wise Men, or Magi’s, journey to Bethlehem.  A number of times throughout the song the Magi say “Mountain and tree, come join in our song, a glad alleluia as we go along!” 

MR 740When’s the last time you asked a mountain or tree to sing along with you?  I doubt that it happens very often.  How come?  Perhaps it’s because we cannot imagine the possibility that mountains or trees could sing in the first place.  Be that as it may, does the fact that we cannot imagine the possibility mean that it is not actually possible?  There are a number of places in the Bible where various aspects of nature are said to sing praises to God.  There is, in fact, a strong biblical basis in the song mentioned above for the Wise Men calling on the mountains and trees to offer God their praise.

MR 912In First Chronicles 16 King David offers a psalm of thanksgiving and exhorts all the earth to “sing to the Lord” and “proclaim his salvation.” (v. 23).  He gets a bit more specific a few verses later: “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’  Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then the trees will sing for joy before the Lord…” (vs. 31-33)  The prophet Isaiah speaks similar words.  He writes, “Sing for joy, O heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, O earth beneath.  Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.” (Isaiah 44:23)  In another place Isaiah says “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

We may not think mountains and trees can sing praises to God but it’s pretty obvious that both David and Isaiah did.  In the book of Job God Himself indicated that nature sings when He said that as the foundations of the earth were being set “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”  (Job 38:7)   Centuries later Jesus told those who sought to hush the crowds for singing praise to him that “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:40)

MR 788In the light of this biblical witness, who are you or I to say the mountains and trees do not sing God’s praises?  Just because we cannot hear them with our own ears doesn’t mean they are silent.

I choose to believe that “the hills are alive with the sound of music” and that they offer praise to their Creator.  I would also affirm with Wendell Berry that there is, indeed, “a timbered choir” and that they too worship God in song.  So perhaps we, along with the Wise Men, should encourage “mountain and tree, come join in our song, a glad alleluia as we go along.”  If we fail to do so, don’t be surprised if it’s the mountains and trees that encourage us to sing with them.  It is, after all, that time of the year.


(I took all of the images above at Mount Rainier National Park.)

Dec 11 2011

Let Heaven and Nature Sing

It’s the third Sunday in Advent and since the theme for this Sunday is joy we sang “Joy to the World!” at church this morning.  This has to be one of the most familiar and popular of all Christmas hymns.  I have enjoyed singing this song since my childhood.  Even as a kid I particularly liked the part that says, “let heaven and nature sing.”  What I didn’t realize back then is that the idea of heaven and nature singing comes straight out of the Bible.

Few people seem to know that the background for Isaac Watts’ famous carol is Psalm 98.  In verse 4 of this Psalm we read, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.”  This, of course, is where the title for “Joy to the World!” comes from.  But what about “heaven and nature” singing?  That comes later.  In the last three verses the Psalmist declares: “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”  Here we see that the sea, along with all the creatures that inhabit it; the world, along with all of its inhabitants; and also the rivers and mountains are called to sing a joyful song unto the coming Lord.

The Bible teaches us that God created the world and us for His glory.  It only makes sense then that all of Creation should join together in singing God’s praise.  And there is certainly no better time to lift our voices with the rest of Creation than during this season when we pause to remember that “God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16)  We may not understand how, or even accept that it is true, but nature does, in fact, offer praise to its Maker.  If we are wise, we will do the same.  And if we truly realize what’s going on it will be a joyful song we sing.  So let’s not rest content with just heaven and nature singing, let’s all do our part as well!


(The top image was taken at Cape Elizabeth in Maine.  The middle image was taken in Big South Fork N.R.R.A. in Kentucky.  The bottom image was taken in Kings Canyon N.P. in California.)

Dec 13 2009

Joy to the World!

Bryce Canyon 802Today is the third Sunday in Advent and the theme for this particular Sunday each year is joy.  If one will pause to reflect on the meaning of this special season he or she cannot help but experience joy.  It truly is amazing that the One who created the world became part of it as a vulnerable little baby.  John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  A few verses earlier the Gospel writer says “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (v. 3) 

I think a lot of people fail to understand that at Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Creator of the world.  Speaking of Jesus the apostle Paul said, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created…” (Colossians 1:15-16) 

Bryce Canyon 959I realize that during this season we usually focus on how God sent His Son into the world to provide for our salvation but we should also note the amazing fact that in that Bethlehem stable the Creator became a part of the world He created.  One of the implications of this for me is that because of the Incarnation we stand on “hallowed ground.”  The world is not just “good” as the author of Genesis reminds us; it is holy too.

One of the most popular Christmas carols is “Joy to the World.”  The song indicates that because Jesus came there is cause to rejoice.  In fact, the song exhorts “heaven and nature” to sing for joy at Christ’s coming.  During my trip this past week to southern Utah there were many times I felt like singing God’s praises for the gift of His Son.  There were even times when I looked at the incredible beauty of Christ’s Creation that it seemed like nature was ready to sing too.  And that is only fitting.  When we remember that Jesus is both the world’s Creator and Savior, why shouldn’t “heaven and nature sing”?


(The pictures above were taken this past week at Bryce Canyon National Park.)