I have realized that I cannot come close to expressing the joy I feel during the Christmas season. Somehow, some way, for the past several years, the awe and wonder of the incarnation have multiplied exponentionally in my heart during the weeks leading up to Christmas. I am especially taken with the beauty, depth, and power of so many traditional Christmas songs. They are beautiful because they speak of the unspeakable humility of the incarnation; they are deep because they invite us to ponder incomprehensible mysteries; and they are powerful because they stand at the the summit of redemptive history from where we see the breaking of a new and glorious morn, a thrill of hope, and the spring of blessings that have begun to flow out as far as the curse is found.
Now, finally, joy has come to the world — because the Lord is come and because the Savior reigns. This is no postmodern tribal narrative, true for your community but not for mine. This is no cultural tradition, speaking only or even mainly to white middle-classers packing SUV’s with mall-bought gifts on Black Friday. And it is no seasonal festival, only meant to bloat us with a deflatable holiday happiness that will slowly hiss away as we clean up the wrapping paper and pack up the ornaments and ring in the new year.
Isaac Watts published “Joy to the World” in his 1719 collection of poems entitled The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. It was an expression of his meditation on Psalm 98 as he celebrated the glorious final coming of Christ into the world. Joy has come to the world because the King has come, and is coming again.
We “sing to the LORD a new song” (98:1) because “the LORD has made known his salvation” and “has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations” (98:2). Now from Africa to India to Vanuatu, “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (98:3). So “make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” (98:4). Break out every instrument you can find, and let men their songs employ — “with the lyre and the sound of melody” and “with trumpet and the sound of the horn” (98:5-6). If you have ears to hear — if you find that your favorite song is the song of praise to the King who has come and is coming again — then you will hear fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeating the sounding joy. Yes, “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD” (98:7-9). If you hate injustice and oppression and you long for the mouths of the wicked to be stopped, for those in bondage to be freed, for the outcast to be welcomed, for the orphan and widow to be given a name and a home, and for light to overpower darkness — rejoice! “For He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (98:9).
This is not a shallow season, and it is not a shallow festival. Our songs, if nothing else, are telling us that. So, no more let sins and sorrows grow, because the curse is being uprooted, and because the magnificently humble dawn of hope in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago has demonstrated that God is fulfilling His promises in Christ, so that all the nations will see the glories of His righteousness and all His children will know the wonders of His love.