By David Beers

I grew up “low Methodist,” meaning we sang Christmas carols during Advent. One of my favorite hymns to sing between Thanksgiving and Epiphany has been “Joy to the World.” Singing it is easy and fun, upbeat, and full of rejoicing. The title itself indicates the feeling it is meant to elicit in the hearts of those who sing this song:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing (3x).

This hymn reflects an understanding that the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is not merely for human beings but an event for all Creation and therefore meant to be celebrated from rocks to stars, plants, and animals. In Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, some of the Pharisees chided him, ordering him to stop the display. But Jesus responded that even if the people were silent, “the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40) in response to the presence of the Incarnated Christ. The whole of Creation was created as good and, according to Paul, a revelation of the truth of God’s presence and power (Romans 1:19-20).

In this sense, the created order is not merely an object to be used by humanity, but a part of God’s presence revealed to all of us. Creation moans in anticipation of the revelation of the Incarnation because, unlike humans, it does not need to be told that God is with us; every part of Creation has always known and experienced that presence from the very beginning. How, then, can we humans see everything around us and not be reminded of the goodness of God? 

Too often, humans choose to limit the extent of the effect of the incarnated presence of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We ask, is it only those whom God chooses? Could it be everyone who has heard the Gospel and believed in Jesus? Then we ask ourselves, what about those who have not heard? Would a loving God punish those who lived a life without understanding? Do we even know if they did not understand that the presence of God is all around us, continuously acting in our lives, waiting for our response and acknowledgment? Is that salvation from obeying a set of Bronze Age rules that have been interpreted, transliterated, and paraphrased over millennia?

We have the birth narratives of Jesus, so loving read during the Christmas service. The very animals acknowledge the presence of the Incarnation of God in the baby Jesus. No one testified, said a prayer, or baptized them. Merely being in that sacred presence, the shared presence of God’s spirit enabled them to honor the newborn Christ. Stars moved from their fixed positions to lead the Magi to the Holy Family in a divine revelation of the Incarnation.

We cannot deny the truth that God is revealed in and through the created order and that there is no separation between humanity and the rest of Creation, whether on this planet or across the universe. But is the presence of God limited in and through the human body of Jesus? Could it be that the Word became flesh to reveal to us the love and presence of God since Creation? Could we not see that Jesus’ presence among humans was the reminder and revelation of God’s love that is near and even now at hand?

I believe all this to be a profound testimony to the presence of God within all of Creation. We are told that God is present with us through the Holy Spirit, a gift of God’s grace. If we can see God in the eyes of other humans, how much more can we experience the wonders of the world around us? The whole miracle of life and the very cycles of nature witness that God is not merely a disinterested watchmaker but actively working in and through every bit of Creation to show those who need a little more convincing that there is something—Someone— beyond humanity and its understanding. Humans, throughout time, have acknowledged the presence of the Divine in the created world and treated the world and everything on it as a sacred treasure to be loved and cared for as much as we care for others in our care. 

As we celebrate Advent and Christmas, remember that God’s presence is not something we can contain. The more we see God’s presence in everything around us, the more we open our hearts to God’s presence, power, and love. This love revealed, incarnated in the person of Jesus the Christ, was given to us in a way that we as humans could receive, understand, and accept. 

John’s first letter says that if you say you love God and hate another, then you are a hypocrite (1 John 1:9-11). I would expand this even further: If you say you love God but despoil the Earth, misuse, and hoard its resources and take for granted that it is humanity’s to do with as we please, you are also a hypocrite as we remember that we are commanded to care for Creation (Genesis 2:15) as well as other humans (Matthew 22:37-40). Our failure to hear the cries of Creation and ignore the abuse of the environment brings a judgment of famine, drought, pestilence, and death. We who celebrate the love of God for us through Jesus can lead the way of loving our neighbor and the whole of Creation as a testimony to that love. That choice will truly bring “Joy to the World” and heaven and nature will indeed sing!

David Beers graduated cum laude with an M.Div. from Candler School of Theology and served churches in Florida in various capacities for many years. After his father’s death, he moved to Tennessee to be near his widowed mother. He has continued his studies, recently earning a Certificate in Sexuality and Religion from the Pacific School of Religion. He attends West End UMC in Nashville and serves as a lay delegate to the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Annual Conference.