Joy to the World
Joy to the world the Lord is come
Let Earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
“Joy to the World” was written by Sir Isaac Watts (1674–1748), who is heralded as the “father of English hymnody.” While the hymn is often featured during the Christmas season, it was originally written to be sung year-round as a metrical version of Psalm 98:4: “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.” From the first time, this hymn was published in 1709, to the pews of our churches today, its powerful call to “repeat the sounding joy” continues.
The joyful theme we hear in this hymn is two-fold: it’s a joy that looks back on the incarnation and one that also looks forward to the second coming of Christ. This hymn remains one of the favorite Christmas carols sung during the Christmas season and has now been sung for more than 300 years by people all over the world. The word joy appears over and over again in the Scriptures. For instance, the Psalms are filled with references to joy. The psalmists write, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5b) and “Shout for joy to God, all the earth” (Ps. 66:1). Likewise, in the New Testament, we read that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), which means that it is a Christian virtue. Given the plethora of biblical emphases, we need to understand what biblical joy is and pursue it. God cares for our joy and with this heart toward the people He loves, He gave us the greatest gift - His Son.
But sometimes we struggle to grasp the biblical view of joy because of the way it is defined and described in Western culture today. Our "joy" or at least the focus of it can easily be misplaced and there is where our disappointment and frustrations begin. This is especially true during the Christmas season. Things that make life hard often feel worse at Christmastime. Culturally, we have turned Christmas into a matter of performance. There is the cultural pressure to have life at its Instagrammable best: impressive-looking homes, delicious-looking food, and precocious-looking children. Meanwhile, strained relationships, bereavement, financial difficulties, and uncertainties can feel all the more pronounced. A season of presumed celebration makes the hardships even more apparent.
500 years before the birth of Christ, a prophet whose name is Isaiah wrote to a people just like us. Look at whom the prophecy is addressed to:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light . . . (Isa. 9:1–2)
Gloom, anguish, darkness. Words we do not want to associate with the Christmas season. But the reality is many people find it hard to truly be fully joyful in a time like this. We may not be having the perfect Christmas, but remember, the first Christmas wasn’t perfect either. It was in fact very messy. The setting by which Jesus came on earth was one of history’s most violent and indescribably difficult times of human existence.
Isaiah shows us the message of Christmas is for the broken. In other words, for all of us.
God didn’t come to this world to congratulate the successful and high-five those who have their lives together. He came for those walking in darkness —they have seen a great light.
The lyrics of another favorite Christmas hymn says: “O come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant” But if I am going to be honest, I don't always feel faithful, joyful or triumphant. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost - of whom I am chief (to borrow the words of Paul).
So, it's not “O come all ye faithful, joyful, and triumphant”—otherwise none of us could be there. No. Christmas is for the faithless, the joyless, and the defeated. Christmas is for the weary for the messed up and for the broken. If your life is not instagrammable, then Christmas is for you.
That is what "Joy to the World" mean. If we ask the question, What is so joyful about the Lord's coming - it is because the world is broken and He has come to restore the broken things of this world including us. The picture of the manger above is very similar to the manger that Jesus was laid in. Of course, mangers are animal feeding troughs but in ancient Israel, they were made of stone - not what you would see in a modern-day nativity scene. Not comfortable, but great for protection. That’s why those who were experts in this matter would put their newborn lambs in them for protection. But not just any lamb, the unblemished perfect lambs that were used in the sacrifice for sins. And Bethlehem, where Jesus was born was FAMOUS for their UNBLEMISHED LAMBS used for the sacrifice. These lambs had to be perfect so they would wrap them tightly in swaddling cloths and lie them in the manger to keep them safe.
This is exactly why the only time mangers are mentioned in Jesus’ birth story it is being told to shepherds. In Luke 2 it says:
“This will be a sign for you, you will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds would have understood this powerful parallel! THEY KNEW what the cloth and the manger meant! This baby would be THE PERFECT LAMB OF GOD! The Messiah who would sacrifice His life for the sins of the whole world. He wasn’t just a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger, He was GOD: perfect, sinless, and Holy, humbling Himself to become the perfect sacrifice to reconcile us back to Himself!! That my friend, that Perfect Lamb, is why "Joy to the World, the Lord is come!" That is why we celebrate Christmas! Jesus was bor to one day die for the penalty of our sins!
Isaiah, the prophet, spoke of another Messianic prophecy saying:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
- Isaiah 53:5-6
Author Max Lucado, pens these words saying:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need was pleasure then God could have sent an entertainer. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent us a Saviour.
For me, this captures the essence of Christmas. God came to save us!
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” - Romans 6:23
Sin has wages that we could not pay. God has gift that we cannot afford. And we are invited to choose to receive the free gift that God offers to us. The truth that Jesus came to earth is proof that God cares. Jesus did not come to make God’s love possible but to make God’s love visible. Christmas is the time and place when God pulls the curtains of heaven so we can see His face. Christmas is the answer to our question: Where is God? Who is God? God couldn’t make Himself bigger so He can impress us - so He made Himself smaller to dwell among us and attract us. The Christmas message is IMMANUEL! God came for us.. He wants to dwell with us if we will open up our hearts and let Him in! The salvation He offers means that there is hope and fullness of JOY is possible.