Christmas 2018 is officially behind us and most of us will finish boxing up the decorations in the next few days. As you take down the garland and wrap up the ornaments, you might just have a faint echo of a Christmas carol playing in the back of your head. Maybe it’s one more verse of Silent Night.. a line from Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or a fragment of Joy to the World. You know that last song is somewhat of a curiosity to me. It’s probably one of the best loved and most sung of the carols and stirs the hearts of many who join in its triumphant chorus. But I often wonder why this particular song only makes its appearance in December. It’s a wonderful song full of rich content, but if you think carefully about the lyrics, believers must conclude that they are not singing about the incarnation of Jesus on that first Christmas night. It’s, in fact, a joyful heralding of Christ’s second coming… that promised day of His return. (Heb. 9:28; I Thess. 4:16-17)
Take a look at the first verse.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing
While this is a beautiful picture, it is far from what happened when Jesus first entered the world. King Herod desperately tried to kill him, the Pharisees ignored him, and the Gospels go on to chronicle at length the hostility, rejection and execution of Christ by those who hardened their hearts and refused to listen. The summary of His life on earth is that “He came to his own but His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:11) However, we can have faith that one day that will change and all the earth will see Jesus as He is and acknowledge Him as the rightful and only “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Rev 19:16)
The second verse:
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
My garden is mostly idle right now (though we do have a few cold weather greens planted) but when the spring returns and begin the yearly struggle against the weeds to bring fruit from the earth, we’ll be quickly reminded that the curse of thorns is indeed still active. And outside the garden, most of us don’t have to look far to find suffering and sorrow infecting our own lives or the lives of those we love. But the lines of this song proclaim a day when the curse will be repealed and the earth and all those who know Christ as Savior will enjoy full restoration. (Rev. 21:1-5)
The final stanza:
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love
For all the wonderful advances in modern society, the truth is that we are more divided than ever. Political and cultural separation is on the rise, not only in our own country, but all over the world. Factions isolate us as we seek to promote our own agendas. Instead of grace and truth reigning over all, the world and most of who live in it are subjects of ‘the ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (Satan) (Eph. 2:2) who comes only to “steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10)
If you’re weary of the fighting and division, then hold to the hope in these lyrics. One day, there will be unending unity and harmony. Psalm 22:28 reminds us that “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.” In that day, the nations will surely serve to prove the glory, righteousness and love of our Creator.
While most of us won’t think about this song again until next December, I think it’s a good one to keep in our hearts all year long… a reminder of the promise that Jesus will one day return to complete our redemption.
So as we enter a new year, may we also strain to see beyond 2019 to our ultimate future that is filled with perfect and unending joy to the world. And let all who wait with eager anticipation declare with the Apostle John, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus.” (Rev 22:20)