Heaven and nature sing, and repeat the sounding joy

Did you ever stop to really consider the words to the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World”? I’ll paste the first two stanzas and continue below:

Joy to the World , the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

Heaven sings. But how can nature sing? And how can fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the joy that nature sings? Let’s look at some other, similar language and examples from the bible of nature doing just that:

In Luke 19:40, the Pharisees were aghast at the outpouring of adulation toward Jesus when “…the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: ” (Luke 19:37b) The Pharisees said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”(Luke 19:39). “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 39:40).

Matthew Henry says of that verse, “Whether men praise Christ or no he will, and shall, and must be praised (v. 40): If these should hold their peace, and not speak the praises of the Messiah’s kingdom, the stones would immediately cry out, rather than that Christ should not be praised. This was, in effect, literally fulfilled, when, upon men’s reviling Christ upon the cross, instead of praising him, and his own disciples’ sinking into a profound silence, the earth did quake and the rocks rent.” 

Another instance of nature somehow becoming verbal is from Romans:

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” (Romans 8:22).” Can creation groan? Barnes’ notes says

“And travaileth in pain together – This expression properly denotes the extreme pain of parturition. It also denotes any intense agony, or extreme suffering; and it means here that the condition of all things has been that of intense, united, and continued suffering; in other words, that we are in a world of misery and death. This has been united; all have partaken of it: it has been intense; all endure much: it has been unremitted; every age has experienced the repetition of the same thing.”

In Isaiah, we see another example of how nature reflects the glory of the Lord and point to us as to how we should reflect it also: “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 NIV)

The expressions of nature itself crying out is figurative, strongly figurative. As Barnes’ Notes say, “The expression here seems to be “proverbial,” and is not to be taken literally. Proverbs are designed to express the truth “strongly,” but are not to be taken to signify as much as if they were to be interpreted literally. The sense is, that his coming was an event of so much importance that it “ought” to be celebrated in some way, and “would” be celebrated. It would be impossible to restrain the people, and improper to attempt it. The language here is strong proverbial language to denote that fact. We are not to suppose, therefore, that our Saviour meant to say that the stones were “conscious” of his coming, or that God would “make” them speak, but only that there was “great joy” among the people; that it was “proper” that they should express it in this manner, and that it was not fit that he should attempt to repress it.”

So, no, little grass blades do not have a mouth that opens and sings and proclaims the glory of God. The fields do not ululate in joyful adulation at His soon return, and upcoming release from the burden of the curse. For nature, it is impossible to restrain their joy. With humans, we all too often restrain it. We drag around grousing over the petulant colleague, or the air conditioning in church or the car that has lost its new car smell. We should mirror the creation in how it declares His glory. We sing for the Redemption soon to come. We praise for the creation that will experience lifted curse. We shout to the heavens that the babe is born. We cry out that He is risen, lives, and loves us. We acknowledge His creation, even the stones, and sing out! He soon comes!

We are blessed to be the terminal generation who will not die but be changed in an instant, putting aside corruptible flesh for incorruptible glorified bodies. We will dine with the King. We will watch Him renew the earth to its perfection. We will live where there is no sin. If I was a blade of grass, I would cry out at that! Do you repeat the sounding joy?

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