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  • Writer's pictureLynn Holzinger

Joy to the World

I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people.

Luke 2:10

Joy to the World is a favorite Christmas carol sung by millions every year around this time. We sing it as a tribute to the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. But, initially, the words weren't written as a song or to be sung at Christmas.

A Brief History of Joy to the World

Isaac Watts was one of the great hymn writers in church history, and I guess nothing shows that better than the fact that he wrote one of his most famous hymns by accident. In 1719, Watts published a book of poems in which each poem was based on a psalm. But rather than just translate the original Old Testament texts, he adjusted them to refer more explicitly to the work of Jesus as it had been revealed in the New Testament.
One of those poems was an adaptation of Psalm 98. Watts interpreted this psalm as a celebration of Jesus’s role as King of both his church and the whole world. More than a century later, the second half of this poem was slightly adapted and set to music to give us what has become one of the most famous of all Christmas carols.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come

This first line of the song reminds me of what the angel said to the shepherds in the field the night Jesus was born:

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people; for today, in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10-11)

Most people are familiar with the story. Quirinius, the governor of Syria, was taking a census that required everyone to return to their ancestral towns to register. Since Joseph was a descendant of King David, he returned to David's hometown of Bethlehem. And Mary, who was very pregnant, went with him because they were engaged to be married. When they arrived at Bethlehem, Mary went into labor. The only place they could find for the baby to be born was in a stable. That's where Jesus was born.

Meanwhile, in some fields nearby, were some shepherds watching over their sheep. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and gave them the good news of Jesus' birth, and told them how they would recognize him. He would be the one wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Before the angel left, he was joined by a heavenly host of angels, singing,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased (Luke 2:14).

After the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds looked at one another and said, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened!"

The birth of Jesus then and today is cause for great joy!

Let Earth Receive Her King

The second line reminds me of the wise men traveling from the East to find the newborn King of the Jews. They had followed His star, which led them to Jerusalem and Herod the King. When they asked the king where the baby was because they had come to worship Him, Herod was troubled. After meeting with his leaders to find out what they knew, he told the wise men to go to Bethlehem, find the baby, and report back to him. He said he wanted to go and worship the baby too!

The star continued to lead the wise men and stopped over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star stop, they were filled with joy! They went in and fell down and worshiped Him. They presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The wise men received their King by worshiping Him and bringing Him gifts. We, too, use this time of the year to celebrate Jesus' birth and remind ourselves that He is our King.

When the wise men left, Joseph was told in a dream to take Mary and the Child to Egypt and to stay there until he was told it was safe to return. In the dream, Joseph learned that Herod was going to try to kill Jesus. The wise men did not return to Herod, and when the king realized he'd been outwitted, he sent soldiers to kill all the baby boys in and around Bethlehem that were two years of age and younger. But, Jesus was safe in Egypt.

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

The third line reminds me that we have a part in His story. And that's to make room for Him. Preparing room in your heart for Jesus involves:

First, asking Him to be your Savior. Because of your sin, you were born separated from God. God sent His only Son, Jesus, to this earth to be born, experience and live a sinless life in human form, and ultimately die on a cross to pay the penalty for your sin. Only Jesus could do that; only He was qualified to satisfy the payment God required. Because of Jesus, you can be united with God and live with Him in heaven for all eternity. When you make room for Jesus in your heart for salvation, you will discover how much God loves you and that it's just the beginning.

Second, inviting Jesus to be Lord of your life. Making Jesus Lord of your life is not a one-time thing like asking Him to be your Savior is. Making Jesus Lord of your life is ongoing and requires being "transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2), relying on the Word of God to teach and equip you for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17), and paying attention to the Holy Spirit's conviction (Jn 16:8). When Jesus is Lord, you will live in a way that pleases Him (1 Thess 4:1) and have "great and precious promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world's corruption caused by human desires" (2 Pet 1:4). When you make room in your heart for Jesus to be Lord, you will discover the abundant life He came to give you (Jn 10:10).

And Heaven and Nature Sing

This fourth line of the song reminds me that people are not the only ones capable of joy or praising God. The angels in heaven and all of nature are rejoicing over the birth of Jesus as well. We saw how the angels rejoiced in the field with the shepherds, but how often do you think about nature praising God. Consider:

1 Chronicles 16:31-33 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!" Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.

Job 38:4,7 "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand...while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?"

It's clear that both heaven and nature "sings" and praises the Lord. That pretty much accounts for everyone and everything God has made. Of course, we know that not all people rejoice over the birth of Jesus, receive Him as King, or make room in their hearts for Him. Some people even sing the song at Christmas without any idea of what they are singing. But that doesn't take away from the fact that the good news of Jesus is for all people. May this Christmas find many people receiving Jesus for the first time and singing Joy to the World with new understanding! And many Christians making room in their heart for Jesus this Christmas and beyond!

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