“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:4)
Isaac Watt’s beloved Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World” turns 300 years old this year. Psalm 98 inspired the song and invites us to sing with the heavens and earth, a new song; a cosmic song, which promises to renew all creation and set us free.
The trouble is, there hasn’t been all that much to sing about. Friends, family, and members of our community are dying, the news cycles tell us of impeachment hearings, Brexit, Hong Kong demonstrations, violence in the streets, and refugees around the globe, continuing to find no room in the inn.
So, how can we possibly think of singing, “Joy to the World”? What exactly is there to celebrate?
I recently read an article in the New Yorker by Robert Macfarlane (August 2016). It expanded my wonder of nature and the way it continues to reveal hidden, amazing connections among all living things. I know some about forest ecology and symbiotic relationships between species, but I did not know the extent mycorrhiza impact trees.
Scientists have discovered that fungus in soil sends out hyphae — little tubes — that infiltrate the roots of trees on a cellular level. They take the sugars, created by the trees during photosynthesis. This sounds like a bad thing, but the trees also get something out of this relationship. Trees receive nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) they need from the fungus.
It doesn’t stop there. These mycorrhiza spread through the soil and connect trees together through their roots. They describe it as the “wood wide web.” “The fungal network allows plants to distribute resources — sugar, nitrogen, and phosphorus — between one another. A dying tree might divest itself of its resources to the benefit of the community. Or a young seedling in a heavily shaded understory might be supported with extra resources by its stronger neighbors.”
There’s more. They even have evidence plants can warn other plants that it is under attack. A plant infested with aphids sends chemical signals through the hyphae, telling its neighbors to raise their defenses before the bugs arrive.
Amazing! All happening under our feet!
What if we used this wonder of nature to help us remain open to the unexpected? Because it is true — on the surface — things in the world look pretty bleak. At times, it feels like the end of the world as we know it. Too often, we feel like we have to put on a happy face, hide the tears, bite our tongues.
But, what if this Advent, we dig a little deeper. Look below the surface. Let our roots intertwine with the joy Jesus came to make complete in our lives. A deep joy connecting us all together. An abundant joy Jesus unleashed in the world, but is not yet fully known.
Which leaves us with hope. Hope, which means believing in something happening and having the confident expectation that it will. Yes, with this gift of hopeful joy, we enter into this time of watchful waiting. Awake, anticipating the joy that runs in and through and underneath it all, come what may.
This is the message of Advent — the time the church sets aside before we get to the manger — when we insist once more that we still believe, despite evidence otherwise. God is still with us: connecting all things together, binding up the broken in us, curing all that is sick, and bringing all that is dead in us to new life.”
Yes, “Let heaven and nature sing!” Amen.
Lori Morton is pastor of First Lutheran Church in Sandpoint.