His Blessings Flow: A Celebration of Joy

. 7 min read

Dec 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 146
Wreath, from Isaiah 35.1-10
       used at 6 pm for praying the Scripture
Matthew 11.2-11 (Jesus and John)
Luke 1.46-56 (Magnificat)
as we continue to work our way through the 300th anniversary of “Joy
to the World,” we celebrate joy as we come to this third verse:
more let sins and sorrows grow,
thorns infest the ground;
comes to make his blessings flow
as the curse is found,
as the curse is found,
as, far as the curse is found.
third verse is not always printed in North America. We use a different tune
than is typically used in Europe, that gives us an upbeat repetition of the
last line of each verse. “Far as, far as the curse is found.” Woo-hoo! What?! But
as people of God, we celebrate Joy in the context of Curse.
felt cursed? No matter how hard you work or how effective you are, you get laid
off. No matter how thoughtful and loving you are, you end up divorced. No
matter how faithful you are to the process you are given, no matter your
perfect attendance, no matter the extra credit, you get a failing grade. “Bad
things come in threes…. And I’m on my third set of threes.” (Actually, I don’t
believe bad things come in threes. But if you wait long enough, anything comes
in threes.) Nevertheless, there are some folks for whom the saying seems true:
“If it weren’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.” Sometimes it
seems that there really is something wrong with the world, because it can’t be
all us, right! Surely it’s not all our fault!

third verse of the carol is unlike the rest of it. The carol is an adaptation
of the second half of Psalm 98, but this verse extrapolates, connecting the
themes of the psalm with the story of Genesis and the story of Jesus:
is the ground because of you;
toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
and thistles it shall bring forth for you….
       By the sweat of your face
shall eat bread
you return to the ground,
out of it you were taken;
are dust,
to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3.17-19)
yeah, you’re cursed. I’m cursed. The whole earth is cursed. Yet, “he comes
to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.”
you know? A science expedition:
speaking, our eyes see everything upside down. That’s because the process of
refraction through a convex lens causes the image to be flipped, so when the
image hits your retina, it’s completely inverted. …
why doesn’t the world look upside down to us? The answer lies in the power of
the brain to adapt the sensory information it receives and make it fit with
what it already knows. Essentially, your brain takes the raw, inverted data and
turns it into a coherent, right-side-up image. …
the 1890s, psychologist George Stratton carried out a series of experiments to
test the mind’s ability to normalize sensory data. In one experiment he wore a
set of reversing glasses that flipped his vision upside down for eight days.
For the first four days of the experiment, his vision remained inverted, but by
day five, it had spontaneously turned right side up, as his perception had
adapted to the new information.
cursed. I’m cursed. The whole earth is cursed. The problem is that we have
gotten so used to it that it appears to be right-side up. We have, in the words
of that science experiment, “normalized” the data. But the world is not right
side up. The world is not normal, at least not in terms of lining up with the
heart of God. So the prophets and the poets of Scripture turn it all upside
down when they talk about the intentions of God, the kingdom, the gospel.
wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
desert shall rejoice and blossom;
the crocus
shall blossom abundantly,
rejoice with joy and singing….
the weak hands,
make firm the feeble knees….
the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unstopped;
the lame shall leap like a deer,
the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
streams in the desert.
       From Isaiah 35.1-10
are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
hope is in the LORD their God…
keeps faith forever;
executes justice for the oppressed;
gives food to the hungry.
LORD sets the prisoners free;
LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
LORD loves the righteous.
LORD watches over the strangers;
upholds the orphan and the widow.
       From Psalm 146
has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
lifted up the lowly;
has filled the hungry with good things,
sent the rich away empty.
       Luke 1.52-53
is not turning the world upside down. That’s turning it right side up. That’s
blessing flowing as far as the curse is found. Or, in the words of Isaiah 35
from one translation:
everlasting joy shall be on their
and gladness shall overtake them,
sorrow and sighing shall flee. [1]
ran cross country in high school and was never fast. But I hated to have
someone overtake me in a race. But in the prophetic imagination, it is joy and
gladness that overtakes us. We’re running our race, trying to deal with our
stuff, hoping tomorrow might be a little better than today, or perhaps not
hoping at all. Suddenly, bearing down on us are joy and gladness in tandem. We
can’t outrun them. We look around and discover that sorrow and sighing, who
have accompanied us all along, have abandoned the race, unable to deal with
this new competition. “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is
week, Joe Tweedle stopped by the church offices. He began the conversation,
“You know, JP, I don’t know what’s wrong with this country.” “Uh oh,” I
thought. “Here we go with politics.” But no. He said nothing about what is
going on in Washington or Harrisburg. But yes. He talked about kingdom of God
values: “No one in this country should go hungry. No one in this country should
sleep on the sidewalk.”
       Then, he told a story of his Christmas in
Korea during the conflict, the “saddest day of my life.” They were at the front.
And there was nothing special to eat. Their captain, who had received a
battlefield commission during World War II and remembered what it was like to
be an enlisted man, stopped in to encourage the troops. He discovered the
meager rations and called upon one of Joe’s buddies to go on a mission with
him. They got in a big truck and disappeared. Hours later, they were back with
a truck load of hams and turkeys, bourbon and beer. It had been liberated from supplies
for an officers’ party in Seoul. Joe’s unit was overtaken by joy and gladness
in the saddest day of his life. And, you know, there were a few folks back in
Seoul who were not happy.
has filled the hungry with good things,
sent the rich away empty.
       Just like our response to the gospel. If
the gospel is good news to the poor, if the gospel means that their debt is
canceled and their lands are returned, then that is definitely bad news
for someone else. This is the uncomfortable news of the gospel. And this is why
Jesus says to John’s emissaries: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have
good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me”
(Matthew 11.5-6). “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
       Walter Brueggemann points out that the
real kicker in Jesus’ description of the activity of the kingdom is that he
puts good news for the poor last. Jesus seems to be working his list to a
climax with “the dead are raised.” What could get better than that? But making
“the poor have good news brought to them” the climax anchors the work of the
kingdom in daily economic realities and in the scandal of grace and election. Brueggemann
calls it “royal confiscation,” Jesus taking from empire and giving to the poor
Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition,
p. 107)
. Because the kingdom of God is for the poor. No wonder that
this conversation of Jesus and John’s disciples concludes with Jesus’ remark, “But
from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven is treated
violently, and the violent claim it[2]
(Matthew 11.12). “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
       So, when the people of God give praise,
it is NOT because everything is hunky-dory. We praise God because the total
reversal, the great upheaval, the upside-down world turned right side up by the
gospel, is so delightful, so unexpected, so GOOD. And even now it overtakes us.
more let sins and sorrows grow,
thorns infest the ground;
comes to make his blessings flow
as the curse is found,
as the curse is found,
as, far as the curse is found.

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Is 35:10).
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English Bible (Mt 11:12).
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.