Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson was just released last fall. I’m so glad I heard of it in time to use for Advent.
“Heaven and nature sing” is a phrase from “Joy to the World,” written by Isaac Watts. Watts’ hymn looks forward to Jesus’ second coming more than His first, but it’s regularly used as a Christmas carol. Hannah took inspiration from this phrase and wrote 25 Advent devotions based on various aspects of nature connected with the birth of Christ. The Bible tells us creation groans from the effects of sin, waiting for redemption. We also groan or yearn for things to be set right. Hannah writes, “I want to offer you hope—not by ignoring the brokenness but by looking it squarely in the face, knowing your Redeemer has and will come” (p. 1).
One thing that struck me about these meditations was how much sheer thought must have been behind them, to weave so many threads together.
For instance, in the chapter “Family Tree,” Hannah writes of her husband’s discovering some old family genealogies which were written not in flow charts like we’re used to, but in concentric circles. Then she tells of a family visit to see the redwood trees in CA. One cross-section of a stump showed rings developed over the millennia the tree had been alive, and Hannah contemplates all the history the tree lived through. Then she brings up the records of Jesus’ human genealogy. His people were often faithless and disobedient, resulting in judgment by enemy armies taking over Israel and exiling its people. Isaiah compares this to God lopping boughs off a tree (Isaiah 10:33). But He promises “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. . . In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10).
“The story of Christmas is this: the tree is not dead” (p. 20). And eventually, others were grafted into the family (Romans 11:17-24), “strangers and foreigners and all those who thought they’d never know family again, those who never dared to hope that life would run through them” (p. 20).
You and I are links in the chain of generations, called to steward the fragile hope we’ve received. The seventy or eighty years given to us on this earth pale in light of those who have come before us and those who follow after. . .
So whether his work happens over the course of a thousand years or one day, whether it is given to us to play a prominent role in it or simply to stand as a faithful witness to the promise, we will wait on him. And we will wait in hope.
The tree is not dead. The quiet, steady work that came before us will continue on after us. The quiet, steady work we do today—even if it’s as simple as celebrating the Promised Son during this season—will echo through the years (pp. 20-21).
And thus Hannah writes about winter, stars, serpents, holly, evergreens, swaddling bands, shepherds, stars, and more.
One of my favorite quotes is in the chapter “Among the Beasts.”
Yes, the manger signals something about this baby, but it is not simply his poverty. By being placed in the manger, he is revealed as both the rightful son of Adam charged with caring for his creation and also the eternal Son of God who created them and who provides for them. So instead of filling the manger with hay or corn, he fills it with himself (p. 80).
I spent many mornings after my reading in this book in tears or joy, touched and awed by the contemplation of the “old, familiar” Christmas story.
Each devotion is about five pages long and written in an easily readable style. The illustrations on the cover and between chapters were drawn by Hannah’s husband, Nathan.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m sure I’ll use it again in future Advent seasons. But since these truths are timeless, you could read it any time of year.
I have some of Hannah’s other books in my Kindle app, and I am eager to read them. The only trouble is deciding which one to start with!