The Gospel According to Christmas Carols- "Joy To The World"

Pastor Tim Inman

12-13-15

 

Isaac Watts, the Englishman who wrote ‘Joy to the World’ is known as the father of English Hymnody. He had great respect for his mother and father. He remembered that in his childhood, his father was jailed for his faith when he could not accept the norms of the Anglican church of his day. He remembered his mother nursing his younger siblings on the steps of the jail.

Like his father, Watts was also a non-conformist. English Protestants of the day followed the calvinist tradition of rejecting anything but Psalms to be sung in their worship services. Watts did not object to singing the Psalms, but to the dull way that they were sung.

 

As teen, he was heard complaining: “"To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion." In other words, in English, understated fashion, he was saying that their worship was so dreary they seemed spiritually lifeless. That’s a pretty cheeky thing to say, as the British would put it, but as someone who had experienced the life giving power of Jesus first-hand, he couldn’t stand empty religious drudgery!

 

When his father heard him complain about their own church’s worship, he challenged him to do something about it, and his journey as a songwriter was born!

Although he was criticized by colleagues, Isaac’s work brought scripture to life and made worship music more accessible to the masses.

 

In 1719 Issac published a collection of hymns, called “Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament” Our Christmastime favorite, “Joy to the World” wasn’t necessarily written to be a christmas carol, but a modern interpretation of Psalm 98, which is a prophetic poem which celebrates the coming of God’s Rule to Earth through Jesus Christ.

 

Let’s look a little closer into this wonderful carol and the Psalm that inspired it, and take away some inspiration for our own lives.

 

1. Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

‘God’s Rule Arrives on Planet Earth’

Psalm 98 is a faith-filled declaration that God would redeem what corrupt culture had destroyed.

It is believed that Psalm 98 was written after the Jews had returned from 70 years of Exile in Babylon. They had suffered because of their own sin and that of their captors. A nation which had once been the marvel of the world had fallen because it’s kings and it’s people wouldn’t hold up their end of the bargain with God. And still, God had promised a coming restoration.

Make a joyful noise to the L​ORD,​all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

 

5 S​ing praises to the L​ORD​with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!

6 W​ith trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the L​ORD!​

7 L​et the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!

8 L​et the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together

9 b​efore the L​ORD,​for he comes to judge the earth.

 

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

It seems strange to write a song that celebrates judgement. We live in a world which exalts freedom and abhors judgment. How many popular judges do you know? Judge Judy? Famous maybe, put popular?

But the word here doesn’t simply mean to condemn or sentence a guilty party, it means to rule fairly. God’s judgement is good, it repairs, it heals, it restores, without prejudice or selfish ambition.

 

The writers of this inspired passage were thankful to be led out of captivity in Babylon, but their world was still a mess. They looked forward to a time when God would come to set things right.

It paints a picture of the people of Earth caught up in praise along with creation itself rejoicing in the saviors reign.

It is not just a prophecy of the coming of Jesus, but also the coming of his kingdom, which brings with it hope, healing, and justice for all humankind.

 

As Mary and Joseph adored the newly born baby Jesus, swaddled in cloths and lying in a manger, a host of angels were appearing to shepherds

nearby, to announcing his birth, and confirming that He was the King who would bring Joy to the world.

 

Luke 2:
8 A​nd there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9​A​n angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 1​0 B​ut the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 1​1 T​oday in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 1​2 T​his will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 

The Jews were especially interested in a political savior, and they had good reason to be. They lived in brutal times and suffered at the hands of tyrannical leaders, but the angels, like Psalm 98 announce Christ to be a Savior whose rule will bring joy, not only to the Jews, but to all peoples of the world.

  • Jesus fulfilled not only the words of Psalm 98, but hundreds of other messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. These prophesies rightly predicted that he would:
  • be born in Bethlehem, a descendant of King David
  • spend time in Egypt
  • be annointed by the Holy Spirit minister in Galilee
  • serve the poor
  • heal people
  • enter Jerusalem riding a donkey be rejected
  • betrayed for 30 pieces of silver die a violent death
  • carry the sins of humankind
  • and more.

It’s fair to say that Jesus is the theme of all of scripture, not only the few gospels which tell his life story.

In his ministry Jesus healed hundreds and drew crowds of thousands. He performed inexplicable miracles, was crucified and rose again, appearing to hundreds before his return to Heaven.

Still, after his ascension, the state of Israel remained in the firm grip of Rome. It’s no surprise that some people questioned if this was really the savior of the Jews or if there would be another.

Jesus if you are really our Savior, why do the bad guys win sometimes? Why is their still pain and sorrow? Jobs are lost. Families break up. People get sick and die.

 

It is fair to say that we can share the feelings of those post-exile Jews who penned Psalm 98. We have a lot to be thankful for, yet there is a lot in the world, even close to home in our own lives which causes concern and consternation. We still need to be saved.

As you consider the upcoming elections, and look at the divided state of our nation, with conflict around the world, do you hunger, like those Jews did, for wise and just leadership? Can you identify with their hope that God will come and set things right again?

 

2. Let Earth Receive Her King

A King Riding a Donkey?

 

If Christ’s mission wasn’t to liberate the Hebrew people from the Roman government, what was it? His mission was actually a lot bigger - His mission was to redeem not only Israel, but the whole planet.

The pharisees were well aware that people were beginning to look to Jesus as the prophesied savior. They knew that along with the messiah, God would re-establish his kingdom, so they asked him a fair question, “When is the Kingdom of God coming?”

Luke 17:
B​eing asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come,

he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 2​1 n​or will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.

 

He was telling them plainly that rather than looking for a physical seat of government they should be looking for the kingdom which was growing up right in front of their eyes.

With the course of our nation and our world is taking at times, modern Christians ask the same question, but we can’t judge the health of God’s kingdom by counting Christian politicians or celebrities. A better place to look for God’s kingdom is “In the midst of you.” How is Jesus changing you and people you love? As a pastor I can tell you that God’s kingdom is advancing. He’s changing the lives of ordinary people: healing marriages, releasing from addiction, helping folks extend forgiveness or walk through trial. He is winning.

 

The book of Colossians refers to Christ’s rule being established in our hearts.

Rather than establishing his reign by toppling leaders the way modern governments try to, Christ is building His Kingdom from the ground up, establishing God’s good rule in ordinary people’s hearts, one-at-a-time.

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed. A tiny seed which becomes a large tree. His Kingdom came in seed form in that little baby being tended to by Mary, but it has grown and is growing still.
Isaiah 9 assures us that this kingdom is on the increase, and forever will be:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 O​f the increase of H​is​government and peace There will be​ no end,

Not only will His rule be eternal, it will increase eternally.

 

And yet trouble and injustice remains. Is it worse than ever? I actually don’t think so. Evidence of God’s growing kingdom is all around us. Many of the modern reforms, which we now take for granted, which have made the world gentler and kinder are an outgrowth of the Christian church.

 

We forget that Christians led the charge against slavery, fought for women’s right to vote, and have established modern institutions like hospitals and universities around the world. Jesus is still saving the world, mercifully, one person at time, as people learn to follow His leadership.

 

These good things are an out-birth of God’s kingdom here on earth. Someday God’s good rule will be fully realized - Psalm 98 points to that. In the meantime, he establishes his rule within the lives of his followers and they extend the Joy of God’s kingdom to the communities in which they live. We are called his ambassadors. We are his agents, establishing his rule. We extend his rule by imitating Christ, so it probably looks more like leading the way with love and sacrifice than forcing our way on others.

 

As an Ambassador How might God want to use you to bring Joy to the world

3. Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Not just the world: Joy to You

Just as Jesus came to save the whole world, he came to save each nation. Each city. Each family. Each individual.

 

A good leader makes all the difference. Living in the Bay Area we can all recount stories of companies which thrived under good leaders who nurtured creativity, and rewarded hard work. We also know stories of business which went bust after their leaders lost the desire to innovate or lost touch with what their market.

The Bible also attests to the value of good leadership.

 

Proverbs 14:34: R​ighteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.
Proverbs 29:2: W​hen the righteous thrive, the people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan.

What about your life. What difference would a good leader make in your life? In your attitudes? Habits?

Jesus wants to be your personal leader, in John 14:33, he invites us:

Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

 

We all have opinions about how to fix the national budget, get the economy working, and meet the threats our nation faces, but when it comes down to it, we all have to admit that we haven’t even got our own lives wrapped up that perfectly.

 

Jesus came to show a failing planet what God was really like. What true religion was and wasn’t and He came to give us a, a do-over and then a make-over. He says that whoever puts their faith in Him gets a new Spiritual start. Salvation means God forgives us because of Jesus, then transforms and guides us in the holy spirit, giving true freedom and a new destiny to be part of His enduring family.

Jesus doesn’t come with a wand to make our problems instantly disappear, or to instantly fulfill our wildest dreams. He did come to teach us to live a rich, meaningful life and give a new destiny as an agent of Heaven.

What about you? Have you made room for the savior of the world? Are you willing to trade your pursuit of happiness for long-term Joy?