Joy to the World, It’s not just for Christmas.
The hymn “Joy to the World” is one of the most beloved songs we sing at Christmas time. It celebrates the joy brought to us through the birth of the Christ child in Bethlehem. It has been translated into hundreds of languages around the world. It is also a song that has been exclusively attached to Christmas. Think about it, how many times have you sung or heard someone singing “Joy to the World” in July? (And I’m not talking about the Three Dog Night song). As great a Christmas song as it is, I believe that “Joy to the World” is not just for Christmas.
Did you know that “Joy to the World” was not written with Christmas in mind? When Isaac Watts wrote his paraphrase of Psalm 98 “Joy to the World” in 1719 he was looking forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of the age. Psalm 98 is a great missions anthem as we see God’s great gift found in a manger is not limited to one people or nation. Christ was born for all people and all nations.
Psalm 98 celebrates the joy found in salvation found in God’s right hand and holy arm (vs1). Verse 2 is especially meaningful because this salvation has been “made known to the nations”. And in the succeeding verses the author invites not just Israel, but the whole earth, to “Shout for joy” and “burst into jubilant song”.
This past Christmas some of the students from Lanna Theological Center encountered a trial that could have destroyed their joy. As you may know some of our students come from a country that opposes the Church. Over Christmas break some of our students went home to their country. They helped organize a Christmas celebration in the house churches they serve. Normally the authorities turn a blind eye to Christmas celebrations. This year was different. The authorities in one village decided they needed to “interview” one of the elders and one of our students regarding their Christmas activities. It was a tense time as we waited news of the outcome from our friends in that country.
As we waited for news, I reflected back on my Christmas. The drive though Bethlehem put on by the church. The chili supper with our cell group. Visiting family in Illinois and Mississippi. And not once did I worry about being called in for questioning by authorities. As I prayed for my friend, I wondered if he was feeling any joy during his Christmas. I wondered if he was able to sing “Joy to the World”. Then I remembered that Psalm 98 is also a message of Hope. It looks to the second coming of Christ when sin and sorrow cease and thorns no longer infest the ground. It is this future hope that allows all Christians to sing “Joy to the World” even in the midst of trials.
The great themes of salvation to all nations and the future hope of Christ’s second coming is the real message of “Joy to the World”. Lanna Theological Center is committed to declaring that salvation and that hope to the nations of South East Asia. The next time you sing “Joy to the World” pray for Lanna Theological Center. Pray for her students. Pray for those who need to hear the great message of this hym. Because “Joy to the World” is not just for Christmas.
Oh, by the way our friend? He was “interviewed”. And then released without any repercussions. Joy to the World.
David &Sharon Filbeck