When was the last time you joined with a group of other people in singing? A wedding, funeral, or sports match? A karaoke event? A family gathering? We sing at such times because it’s a powerful way of expressing and sharing emotion, and being united together.

But it’s so much more than that. At least two recent medical studies have suggested we ought to give prescriptions for singing, because of its distinct health benefits. That emotional connection is good for the soul, and helps with mental health – and singing also releases endorphins, which lift mood and ease depression. It eases muscle tension, and soothes anxiety, reducing blood pressure. It’s a good workout for the lungs, improving breathing, and helps develop our hearing, the voice and the musical brain. It can stave off mental decline, and ease respiratory disorders. It can even encourage good posture! All this, and it feels good, and is fun!

Like most churches, we regularly sing together at Cornerstone. You are very welcome to come and join us in singing some of the best and most well-known carols at our annual candlelight service in the beautiful setting of a local wood-panelled school chapel.

Hail the heaven-born prince of peace, Hail, the sun of righteousness.
Light and life to all He brings, Risen with healing in His wings.
Mild, He lays His glory by, Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the new-born king!”

September was literally a disastrous month - a record-breaking season of terrible hurricanes and earthquakes which caused immeasurable damage.

And yet sadly, these natural disasters are only a small part of the shocking news which arrives on our tablets, smartphones and doorsteps every morning. From the relative comfort of our own coffee tables, various news feeds flash before our eyes, detailing the latest spate of murders, the scandals, the records of abuse and the threat of nuclear war. It’s quite a lot to take in before you’ve even had breakfast. But sadly, for many of us, news like this is our ‘normality’.

There’s a very famous Christmas carol which describes the world as a place of ‘sin and sorrow'; or to borrow an illustration from the garden, a place where ‘thorns infest the ground’. Even if you’re not a big fan of carols, it’s obvious that this is more than just poetry.

It’s almost impossible to go through a single day without hearing of something, somewhere, which has caused immeasurable ‘sorrow’. And even if we wouldn’t use the term ‘sin’ anymore, we’re certainly aware of the misery that people inflict on each other through their actions and attitudes. The carol has got it right – this is a world of ‘sin and sorrow’. ‘A thorny ground’.

But strangely enough, this carol isn’t just a poetic description of our world; it’s a rousing call to celebration - ‘Joy to the world’. It was composed by one of England’s most famous hymn-writers: Isaac Watts.

In the third verse, (which I’ve already alluded to), he borrows the language of ‘thorny ground’ from Genesis chapter 3. In response to the sin of Adam and Eve, the Lord curses them, the snake and the world. No longer would mankind live in God’s perfect paradise; they had turned their backs on Him and His world. The beautiful garden became the ’thorny ground’ of ‘sin and sorrow’.

In one sense, 'Joy to the world' is not exactly ‘Christmassy’. And yet, this well-loved Carol is full of reasons to be joyful at any time of year.

3. No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings fow Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as the curse is found.

Isaac Watts never intended us to stay in the ‘thorny ground’. He wanted to lift our eyes to the King who can make everything new again. And that’s what Christmas is all about. Jesus the Saviour was born in Bethlehem. He came to bear the ‘sins and the sorrows’ of a rebellious world; and this song reminds us that one day, He will come again to reverse the curse, to re-create the world, to wipe away every tear and to cause His blessings to flow from coast to coast.

Joy to the world, indeed. ‘Let every heart prepare Him room…’

22 November 2017