Today's second verse you may actually know by heart:
Joy to the earth! The savior 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!
Like the Issac Watts hymn O God, Our Help in Ages Past, this one is also a psalm paraphrase. Psalm 96 is often assigned in the season of Advent, which is why this popular Christmas hymn was once classified as an Advent hymn. The psalm speaks of God's advent in jubilant words; judgment is viewed as a context for rejoicing instead of fear.
The psalmist imagines all creation joining in the rejoicing when God comes:
11 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
I love the image of the trees shouting for joy at God's arrival. Lord knows they have had much to weep over during the reign of humankind. In biblical times, the chief cause of deforestation would have been war (think fire and battering rams). In our time, human sin is no less a cause, but it's more likely to be the deleterious effects of an economy that values short-term gains over long-term benefits of the forest.
What would the trees and hills say to us? I have no doubt they would be glad for God's judgment on human ways. But Watts knows that the final word of God's arrival is not cause for fear. We can join in with fields and floods and trees . . .because we know that Christ comes to reconcile even our relationship with the earth. May you hear them singing along this Advent, and may your life anticipate the things they will say.