Come, Rejoice is one of several LDS hymns that praise God for the restoration of the gospel. Verse 1 invites all to “come, rejoice” because “the king of glory / speaks to earth again.” But the actual content of the restoration is presented in surprising terms:
Truth bursts forth in radiant light
Showing all the path of right
Truth is not what is illuminated, it is what does the illuminating; “truth” is what “show[s] … the path of right.” Too often we talk about the gospel as a bunch of “things I believe” or assertions to which we give intellectual assent. This hymn reminds us that truth encompasses much more. Truth is not the content of our gospel, but rather the enlightening power of our gospel, and a religious life involves allowing truth to guide our walk in “the path of right.” This demanding way of life—walking a certain path, singing a “joyous, wondrous strain”—is something we can get our whole soul behind. A religion that is nothing more than “stuff I think” doesn’t amount to much. The gospel, properly understood, is something one walks by, something that provides the melody of one’s life.
This hymn is also unique because it not only praises God simply for the fact of the restoration, but also for the method by which the gospel is restored:
Angels, messengers from heaven,
Come to earth once more;
Bring to men the glorious gospel;
Priceless truths restore
God sends “messengers from heaven.” The word “angel,” in both Hebrew and Greek, simply means “messenger,” and the scriptures are full of instances of God sending angels to earth. But scripture also contains stories of his earthly servants becoming messengers, as well.
One of the most potent examples occurs when the prophet Isaiah is startled to find himself, quite suddenly, in the middle of a vision. He sees the Lord and his heavenly council sitting in the temple. Naturally, Isaiah is concerned about his worthiness: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5). After he cries out in distress, one of the seraphim lays a hot coal to his lips and says “thy sin is purged” (Isa 6:7), after which Isaiah is admitted into the council. He hears the Lord ask “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Without yet knowing the assignment, Isaiah faithfully responds “Here am I; send me” (Isa 6:8). He is given his prophetic commission to preach repentance to Israel, and the vision ends.
Isaiah becomes a human messenger, and the pattern is quite simple: he is taken into God’s heavenly council, receives an assignment, and is sent back out.
This vision is fairly common among ancient prophets. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi experienced the same call. He “saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded by numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God” (1 Ne 1:8). One of the heavenly beings hands Lehi a book, in which he reads the destruction of Jerusalem. As a result, Lehi “went forth among the people, and began to prophesy and to declare unto them concerning the things which he had both seen and heard” (1 Ne 1:18). Like Isaiah, Lehi was taken into God’s heavenly council, received an assignment, and sent back out.
God’s pattern of sending angels/messengers to teach us truth is a powerful expression of love. He calls forth our faith not through abstract religious principles delivered en masse, but through personal encounters with his servants, and invites us to join his councils and participate in the same work. This is why the third verse no longer invites us to “come, rejoice,” but to “sing, rejoice!” By the third verse of this hymn, the congregation is enacting the ritual singing around God’s throne envisioned by Lehi and other prophets before him. When we participate in hymns, we are joining with the angels who praise in heaven. Hymn-singing is a powerful enactment of our joint participation in the work of the angels, and Come, rejoice reminds us of the symbolism of that worship.
God has revealed a powerful, illuminating Truth. He did it through messengers. And he invites us to participate in the same work.
Come rejoice, indeed.