“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.”
A simple look at the 246th hymn in the United Methodist Hymnal or a Google search will reveal that Isaac Watts wrote the lyrics in 1719 based on Psalm 98. Verse 4 of Psalm 98 catapults us into the joy of God’s presence in coming…
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” (Psalm 98:4)
I confess to love the way the great missionary evangelist E. Stanley Jones re-frames the reason for our joy in this darkened and pandemic blighted world. In his book Abundant Living, Dr. Jones observed, “The early Christians did not say in dismay, ‘look what the world has come to,’ but in delight, ‘look what has come into the world.’” I need to hear that word again today (and everyday into the New Year!).
Randy Alcorn, in a recent article (The Advent of the Happiest Human in History) responds to Jones’ great affirmation. “What has come is Jesus Christ. Through the miracle of His incarnation, He made God visible to us.”
The Holy Scriptures are replete with an emphasis of joy.
- Elizabeth greets the expectant Mary with a cry of joy. “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)
- There is the angelic announcement: “But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
- The Wisemen were “were overwhelmed with joy.” (Matthew 2:10)
- After the birth when Mary and Joseph come to Temple to present the baby Jesus both Simeon and Anna respond to Jesus’ presence with full-throated praise. (Luke 2:28, 38)
This is rightly a season of joy. Saturated as we are with grim news of death, turmoil and conflict, I call us to embrace the deep joy of this time. The true joy is not a brief season of goodwill (however proper and need such joy is). It is something far, far greater. It is the joy of God with us!
The old prophet Isaiah had it right. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
The hymn “Joy to the World” has it right. Inhale the declarations contained in the verses.
- Let every heart prepare Him room.
- Let all their songs employ.
- No more let sins and sorrows grow.
- He rules the world with truth and grace.
Joy Is a Cardinal Characteristic of the Christian Life
Joy was a mark of the life of the early Methodists. Leonard Sweet notes, “When pressed to define ‘the character of a Methodist,’ John Wesley answered, in a 1742 tract of that title, ‘God is the joy of his heart….He is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy, as having in him ‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life,’ and ‘overflowing his soul with peace and joy.’” (Leonard Sweet, The Greatest Story Never Told, pg. 28-29)
In his magisterial biography of the life the Apostle Paul, the great New Testament scholar and Bishop N. T. Wright triumphantly asserts:
Paul’s powerful, spirit-driven proclamation of Jesus as “son of God” can hardly be called “preaching,” if by preaching we meant the sort of thing that goes on in churches week by week in our world. This was a public announcement, like a medieval herald or town crier walking through the street with a bell, calling people to attention and declaring that a new king had been placed on the throne. This was, indeed, how the word “gospel” would be heard right across the Roman world of the day: as the announcement of a new emperor. Paul’s proclamation was not, then, a fresh twist on the regular teaching work of the local Jewish community. He wasn’t offering advice on how to lead a more holy life. He certainly wasn’t telling people how to go to heaven when they died. He was making the all-time one-off announcement: Israel’s hope has been fulfilled! The King has been enthroned! He was declaring that the crucified Jesus was Israel’s long-awaited Messiah. (N. T. Wright, Paul: A Biography)
May the doctrine of the incarnation – God with us in the human form in the person of Jesus Christ – be for us a “spirit-driven” proclamation! Let it overflow from our pulpits and pews in this perilous time. It is both striking and instructive that the joy of the Savior’s birth is described as “overwhelming” in the various gospel accounts. Today, in our world of deep darkness, we need a joy not based on a passing season but on the overwhelming greatness of God acting.
May “Joy to the World” be the hallmark of our preaching and sharing this Christmas.