Today’s devotional is by Bethany Pierce.
'“Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Let earth receive her King.” These words echo throughout churches and beyond during the advent season.
This well-known carol was written by Isaac Watts. It is based on Psalm 98, which is all about singing to the Lord because He has done marvellous things for us. Therefore, our response is to be one of joy.
Although Watts’ hymn is usually only sung at Christmas time, it was really written about the second coming of Jesus. You may be surprised to learn that it was not meant to be a Christmas song. There’s no mention of shepherds, wise men, Bethlehem or angels singing. Instead, the lyrics are a jubilant paraphrase of David’s song of salvation and praise in Psalm 98. So ‘Joy to the World’ is not about Christ’s birth, but rather His return.
However, it could be sung about either, because it is all about the coming of Jesus. This could be His coming to earth, as a baby, who was truly human and truly God. Or it could be about His second coming - the day in the future, when Jesus will return and make all things new, and those who follow and love Him will go to be with Him.
Whichever we think about when we sing this Christmas carol, let’s have a look at some of the lyrics and see what we can learn from them:
In a world full of so much darkness and despair, how could we ever have joy? Well, this song tells us how! It’s because of Jesus! We can be full of joy because, “the Lord has come” (and He is coming back too.)
But what even is joy? Whilst happiness is based very much on our good circumstances, there is something different about joy. James 1:2 talks about us considering it “pure joy” when we face trials. Humanly speaking, this verse doesn’t make any sense. Why would we have an attitude of joy when life is really tough? Because of God. Because He is faithful. Because He is always at work in the circumstances we face. Because He has a greater purpose and plan, often beyond our comprehension.
The song continues, “let every heart prepare Him room”. Has your heart prepared Him room? Have you accepted Jesus as your Saviour? Do you long for the day when He will return and make all things new? After being released from bondage to sin and the power of death over us, we are then freed to live with joy. God’s saving love brings us freedom, and the right response to this is joy and rejoicing.
Another reason we can have joy is because “the Saviour reigns”. He reigns over the world and over our lives. What peace and comfort we can have, because even in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, we know that our Saviour reigns! Praise God! And He also “rules the world with truth and grace”. Our Lord is characterised by truth and grace. He is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) and He offers grace to all who call upon His name.
In response to the Lord coming, “heaven and nature sing”. And in response to the Saviour reigning, all creation “repeat the sounding joy”. Can we have the same response?
Amazingly, the whole world can receive this joy. The song is not called “joy to a few of us”, but joy to the world! Salvation - by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone - is offered to the whole world. This is good news for all of God’s world. If you are a Christian, and have received this salvation, how can you share it with others? Who can you tell this good news to? We have received the greatest gift of all, which is offered to all, so why would we not tell others about the joy they can have?
Yes, Christmas is a time for us to rejoice and celebrate the birth of Christ. But the greatest gift God offered through His son was not only His life. It was His death, resurrection and the salvation offered to us as a result. That’s what ‘Joy to the World’ is meant to remind us of. Jesus’ birth was the start of His mission to save the world. And He will return one day to claim complete victory over evil. This assurance can elevate our fickle happiness to lasting joy."