Each year as the Christmas season drew near, it would bring much excitement to me as a young boy, and I remember often singing the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World.” At the time, the words meant little to me. I was far more interested in emphasizing “repeat the sounding joy” as much as I could on repeat. I never gave the carol or any other carol much thought since I was anticipating the church service to be over so we could receive our treat bags. It is a hymn that many people still sing for all the wrong reasons, not once recognizing that our saviour Jesus Christ is the only way for joy to enter this world. Just like when I was a young boy, they focus on the temporary joy they can get out of Christmas instead of focusing on the eternal joy they receive in Christ.
When Isaac Watts wrote this hymn in 1719, it meant much more than a Christmas carol. It was originally a poem based on Psalm 98, describing a king that reigns both now and eternally. Watts saw his congregation, like us, sing this hymn out of repetition based on religion, not faith, and he said, “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.” I find this interesting how others might come into a congregation and see religion more prevalent than one’s faith through the singing of a hymn meant to give praise and honour to our king. Christmas is an opportune time to share the gospel—the only way to give “Joy to the World”—and too often, we have failed in executing this opportunity.
Singing a hymn like this should cause us to be humbled with much joy for the grace that God has shown us through Jesus. Ephesians 2:7 says, “So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” God has shown us this immeasurable grace, and if our “saviour reigns” in us, we have a calling to share this good news. It isn’t something we should be able to contain, but as Psalm 98:4 says, we need to “make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth: break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” The joy of salvation that has overtaken our hearts should ultimately cause us to share the gospel. It is the joyful noise this hymn calls us to proclaim, as the second stanza states, “Let men their songs employ.” Others must come to know of this great saviour who has given us life.
God has created us to be social beings, so the joy of God should not be locked up inside our hearts. It should flow among us and transform how we communicate with one another. When we celebrate Christmas with Christmas hymns, we need to focus more on Christ. We need this mindset ingrained into us, and this joy needs to be repeated not only during the Christmas season but throughout the entire year. As the world is ever-changing, we cannot forget that just as Christ was born to take away our sin, He will one day return to take His redeemed sinners home.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated throne said, on the “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)