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 Saviour reigns! Let all their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy. Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let thorns infest the ground, or sins and sorrows grow; wherever pain and death are found he makes his blessings flow. he makes his blessings flow, he makes, he makes, his blessings flow.
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love. And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.
This hymn was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) an Independent minister and composer of metrical Psalms. The music is by Handel (1685-1759). You can hear it here.
O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises. Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
When you read Psalm 98 together with the hymn you can hear and see so much more than we ever experience as we sing it year after year. It hits me that it is such a shame something so rich in imagery and language should be confined to one particular season!
Many hymns written in previous centuries fail to connect to the world in which we now find ourselves – but this one does not. We are encouraged to share the message of the gospel and ‘Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.’ And then joy and blessing and love flow out from the following verses. This hymn is a celebration of God’s love.
How often do we box God in? How often do we interpret Scripture in only one way? How often do we hear in our churches: we have always done it like this? Or: we tried it before and it didn’t work?
God’s love offers us life in all its abundance and often as churches instead of sharing this we confine God’s love to the inside of our buildings or certain times of year or to particular people and situations. How about being radical? How about stepping out and doing something that shakes up and challenges and rouses us from our complacency and comfort? This is what God’s love calls us to: Radical Discipleship, Radical Welcome, Radical Love….And maybe singing Harvest and Easter and Advent hymns at the ‘wrong’ time of year as they have more to say!?
Go on, step out and take a risk and see what happens!
God of all times and all places. As we celebrate, once again, your coming here on earth, let us not confine you to a humble stable, a busy Temple or a wooden Cross. Help us to find and to see you in all areas of our lives. Let us listen for, and hear, your radical message of love in all our encounters. And then help us as we step out and share this good news with all whom we encounter, and also with those whom we may never truly meet but alongside whom we live, as brothers and sisters linked by our shared humanity. Amen.
The Rev’d Jenny Mills, Minister at Newport Pagnell URC and West End United Church, Wolverton and Convenor of the URC Children’s and Youth Work Committee.