Let heaven and nature sing

Columban Lay Missionaries, Vida Hequilan (left) and Sai Tamatawale (right), at the summit of the Dragon’s Back, one of the most famous hiking trails at the edge of the Hong Kong city. - Photo: Fr Tim MulroyColumban Lay Missionaries, Vida Hequilan (left) and Sai Tamatawale (right), at the summit of the Dragon’s Back, one of the most famous hiking trails at the edge of the Hong Kong city. - Photo: Fr Tim Mulroy

Here in Hong Kong, during the final week of Advent, much of my time and attention is divided between two things: preparing for the Christmas Mass and planning hiking activities for the holidays between Christmas and the New Year.

Each year, as I prepare the homily for the Christmas Mass, I try to find a new insight or develop a fresh perspective on the Christmas story. Likewise, while researching hiking trails, I look for paths I have not yet explored and interesting places awaiting my discovery. To my surprise, I came to realise during Advent last year that there was a close link between my preparations for both these activities.

As I reflected on the psalm in preparation for midnight Mass, I was struck by these verses:

Let the heavens rejoice and earth be glad, let the sea and all within it thunder praise, let the land and all it bears rejoice, all the trees of the wood shout for joy, At the presence of the Lord for he comes, he comes to rule the earth. (Psalm 95: 11,12)

Here was a heartfelt invitation from God not just to all creatures but to everything in the heavens, in the seas and on the earth to join in the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Closing my eyes, I tried to visualise myself standing on a nearby mountain peak and listening to the sea surrounding the island of Hong Kong, thundering with praise of God. I tried to imagine the dense forests that cover the hills on the edge of this city shouting for joy at the coming of Christ.

A few days later, the following verses from a Morning Prayer psalm startled me:

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity. (Psalm 98: 8,9)

Columban Lay Missionary, Vida Hequilan, having scaled 869 meters, enjoys the view from Sunset Peak, Hong Kong. - Photo: Fr Tim MulroyColumban Lay Missionary, Vida Hequilan, having scaled 869 meters, enjoys the view from Sunset Peak, Hong Kong. - Photo: Fr Tim Mulroy

No matter which direction one looks in Hong Kong, a mountain or hill comes quickly into view. Thanks to such steep terrain, there are more than two hundred rivers and streams with several spectacular waterfalls. Just imagine then the festive joy that spreads across Hong Kong when all those rivers clap their hands, and the mountains sing together for joy at the coming of the Lord!

Since some animals can hear very high notes and very quiet sounds that are not accessible to the human ear, perhaps the wild boars, monkeys and water buffalos - which roam the large parklands that surround this city - enjoy open-air concerts provided by the forest and streams throughout the Christmas season!

Towards the close of Advent, the organist sent me the list of hymns that she had prepared for our Christmas Mass. She had chosen ones familiar to most people so the entire congregation could join in the singing. However, as I glanced over them, I quickly realised that not only the congregation but also the surrounding world of nature was also called to join in the festive joy of Christmas.

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

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns Let all their songs employ While fields and floods Rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy Repeat the sounding joy Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. (Lyrics composed by Isaac Watts, 1674–1748)

Columban Lay Missionary, Sai Tamatawale, on the summit of Lantau Peak, Hong Kong. - Photo: Fr Tim MulroyColumban Lay Missionary, Sai Tamatawale, on the summit of Lantau Peak, Hong Kong. - Photo: Fr Tim Mulroy

After reading these verses, I knew right away what the theme of my homily for the Christmas Mass was going to be - since the coming of Christ into our world is a source of joy for all creation, the entire universe celebrates the Christmas season. Therefore, during our Christmas Mass, we are called to rejoice with everyone and everything on earth in welcoming our Saviour.

Between Christmas and the New Year, as some of my Columban companions and I hiked through the hills and valleys of Hong Kong, we rejoiced in the magnificence of the streams, the coastline and the islands. At intervals, we rested on a rock and listened attentively to the wind whistle a Christmas melody as it moved through the forest and stirred the trees into a graceful dance.

Columban Fr Timothy Mulroy, Superior General, St Columbans Mission Society, lives and works in Hong Kong.

Listen to "Let heaven and nature sing"

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