“The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12
I never understood this phrase. Singing hills and clapping trees? I’ve heard the passage in worship for years and read it occasionally in my own devotional life. I’ve savored the beauty of creation from expansive vistas and lush valleys, but I’ve never witnessed trees clapping their hands, except for the creepy scene in The Wizard of Oz when the trees cheer and jeer and toss apples at Dorothy and her traveling companions.
On Christmas Eve, we read some similar words from Psalm 96, which describes all of creation raising their voices at the coming of the Lord. The Psalm culminates with a rejoicing earth, roaring seas, and “all the trees of the forest singing for joy” (v.11 ff.). For some reason, on that holy night, the words of the psalm writer began to make sense.
Maybe they began to make sense because of the howling wind that blew snow and knocked around trees, as well as rustled Christmas Eve clothes and hair. Maybe understanding carved a path in the ringing hand bells and singing voices, the flickering candles and sparkling lights. Maybe, faith and understanding connected through spoken Scripture and sung refrains telling of the night that Christ was born. Maybe, clarity came in the hot chocolate and coffee which flowed freely and the warm greetings and hugs of reunions, as friends and family connected.
Thankfully, our “Jesus Christ is born!” declarations weren’t only contained within the walls of sanctuaries and worship spaces. Outside, all creation joined in the birthday announcement, too. The glistening trees, falling snow, whipping wind, and hush of bedtime led us into Christmas morning and beyond. Did I hear some trees of the field clapping their hands?
This side of the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the rejoicing isn’t as easily found. The cleansing, white blanket of snow has turned to black slosh on roads and icy clumps clinging to our wheel wells. Garbage cans are overflowing, neighborhood curbside recyclers have extra cardboard packaging to pick-up, and the lifeless, naked Christmas trees are discarded as they wait to be hauled off. Inside, many of us have already packed up decorations and crammed lights and ornaments back into their nests for an 11-month nap. For some, the happy buzz of glad tidings have given way to the daily grind.
As we jump into the new year, creation won’t allow our exclamations to end. Christ is born and the world is changed! All creation, including us, is summoned to declare it. We continue to celebrate and look for renewal. We continue to cry out for justice and peace. We pray for those who are ill, lost, or alone. We work to care for the Earth and one another. Could it be that all creation cannot help but respond to the arrival of God coming among us?
The very end of the Psalms says as much: “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).
Joy to the world!