PREFACE: I recently had the blessing of writing six devotional pieces that briefly share the history, content, and meaning of some of our favorite Christmas carols. Between now and Christmas I will be releasing two per week. I trust that these short writings will enrich the weeks leading up to Christmas as you take moments to place Christ at the center of your Christmas. It’s my hope, that through reading these devotions, you will come to see these familiar Christmas carols in a fresh, new light.
Joy to the World: The King has come. The King is coming.
No other Christmas carol encapsulates heaven’s entire Christmas timeline like “Joy to the World.” From “far as the curse is found” in the garden of Eden to “He rules the world” at the end of the age, this song is replete with prophecy and eschatology. Interestingly enough, the song that today is one of the most recognizable Christmas carols was not written for Christmas, nor was it intended to be a song! 16th-century English author and clergyman Isaac Watts who penned the poem focused on the prophetic themes of Psalm 98. “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music,” the Psalmist cheered as he wrote about the coming kingdom of Messiah and His glorious reign. To Watts, Jesus’ second coming and physical kingdom were at the pinnacle of all scripture. He was a theologian consumed with the return of Christ and longed to poetically capture the Psalmist’s joyful portrait. It wasn’t until 1836 that an American music teacher named Lowell Mason published Watt’s poem as a hymn to the tune of Handel’s Messiah. Over time, the song gained traction in America as a Christmastime favorite.
Of course, the first Christmas was a joyous occasion. A poor, lower-class couple was overjoyed as they pondered the strange events surrounding their Son’s birth. The angels were overjoyed as they proclaimed the Savior’s coming. The shepherds’ divine invitation to partake of such a glorious event no doubt overjoyed their hearts. As the eyes of the Magi met the King they had spent years traveling by faith to find, joy overwhelmed their hearts.
Today, our joy is still complete in Jesus. Because He came, we can rejoice with “joy unspeakable and full of glory!” Our salvation is complete, our sins forgiven, and our heavenly hope secured! But let us not forget, as this song so beautifully declares, there is a day of greater joy still ahead! One day–yet future–Jesus will return and make his blessings flow, “far as the curse is found.” One day the nations will prove “the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.”
All those who place their hope in the One that laid in a humble manger and hung on a sinner’s cross, will one day receive their eternal reward when that same Man returns as a reigning and conquering King and sits upon His royal throne. On that day, the world will finally realize that for which it was created–the physical rule of Jesus Christ. When Jesus returns, He will complete the process of creation’s redemption from its fallenness; sin will have no more power, death will have no more voice, and tears will only flow in the direction of joy. Indeed, on that day, we all with jubilant praise will exclaim, “Joy to the world!”