Winter 2019 Pastor’s Message

Heaven and Nature Sing!

Heaven and Nature Sing graphic

In this year when our entire congregation's faith formation is grounded in Caring for God's Good Creation it makes perfect sense for us to move through the seasons of Advent and Christmas, and the depths of this New England winter, exploring how and when and why "heaven and nature sing!"

"Heaven and nature sing," is, of course, a very well-loved phrase from the Christmas carol Joy to the World. This year-2019-marks the 300th anniversary of the writing of this song, one of the most beloved Christmas hymns of all time.

It was in 1719 that Isaac Watts, the great Congregationalist (aka Nonconformist or Dissenting) minister and hymn writer, inspired by Psalm 98, wrote a Christmas hymn that includes no mention of angels, shepherds, a stable, a star, or a child. Perhaps that is because Watts was writing not of Christ's first coming, but of an advent yet to come.

The poem we now call "Joy to the world" was taken from the second part of Watts' paraphrase of Psalm 98, verses 4 through 9.

More than a century later the Boston music educator, Lowell Mason (1792-1872), a musician with significant influence in his day, published an arrangement of George Frideric Handel's melodic fragments in Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes (1836) and named that tune Antioch. While this is not the only tune to which Watts's Joy to the World text is sung, it is certainly the most common one.

The result became a favorite Christmas hymn that isn't really a carol, which combines the work of an 18th-century English theologian and a 19th-century American hymn writer, with a dash of notes by a German-born composer.

As we move through these seasons of Advent, Christmas and winter together, may heaven and nature, including every one of us, sing with the hope that is our salvation, and may every one of our hearts once again prepare Christ room.

May it be so, O Promised One, may it be so.

Pastor Shelly

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