What Are You Singing: Joy to the World | Sojourners

What Are You Singing: Joy to the World

Photo: Christmas over all the Earth, © lithian / Shutterstock.com
Photo: Christmas over all the Earth, © lithian / Shutterstock.com

I’ve been really lucky this month to hear some of my co-workers’ reflections on the social justice implications of their favorite Christmas carols. It’s been a great opportunity to reflect back on what it is we sing and celebrate each year, the truths we profess without even knowing it.

Naturally, I wanted to get involved, as well. As I was running through the songs I love, "Joy to the World" suddenly popped up in a new light:  

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.

I had never heard this before when I sang it, but this song is full of creation references. Earth is receiving her king, and nature is singing with gusto. Verse two drives the point home: 

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

The focus here is really on creation – fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains bursting out everywhere to echo the joy that they feel. Sure, we’re all “employing our tongues” and singing, but the real glee is coming from the creation that surrounds us. Actually, nature won’t stop repeating it! 

Joy to the World was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, the “Father of English Hymnody,” intended to anticipate the celebration of Jesus’ return at the end of the world. Watts’s hymn was a “modern” re-write of Psalm 89, which is also full of the joy of creation as hills and rivers clap their hands and sing. 

Unfortunately, creation isn’t doing so well at the moment. With climate change, species loss, toxic pollution, industrial agriculture, and a host of other ills, biblical references to the groans of creation seem more appropriate than this joyful scene. 

In some ways, it’s ironic to think about environmental sustainability at Christmastime, since consumerism — a trademark of American Christmas — is a major source of creation’s groaning. 

In spite of all that, "Joy to the World" adds to the numerous biblical references that remind us that our faith in God should drive us to care for the world that surrounds us. We should be bringing Good News to the land, sky, and seas. Thankfully, it seems that more and more Christians are starting to do just that. 

This Advent season, let’s remember that the Earth, too, is waiting to celebrate.  

Janelle Tupper is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

Photo: Christmas over all the Earth, © lithian | View Portfolio / Shutterstock.com

for more info