What is your favorite Christmas song/carol? (Silent Night, O Holy Night, Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Jingle Bells, etc)
"Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity." Ps 98:4-9
Isaac Watts read these words in 1719 and wrote the words to a famous song. The music was added by a German composer, George Frederick Handel in 1742. Then in 1836 an American composer named Lowell Mason took music from Handel’s “Messiah” and added the words of Isaac Watts. Together all three contributed to the beloved Christmas carol “Joy to the World.”
“Joy to the World! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing.”
Think for a moment with me about some of our Christmas carols. Many are serious in tone—O Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings of Orient Are, Silent Night, O Holy Night, The First Noel, It Came Upon A Midnight Clear, Away In A Manger, etc. Now, that does not mean they are bad carols, because they celebrate the awesomeness of the birth of Christ. But “Joy to the World” is meant to express the spirit of rejoicing at the birth of the Messiah (refer back to Psalm 98:4-9—joy, jubilant is repeated 4 times—I think Isaac Watts truly captured the meaning of that Psalm in this song)!
We have talked about waiting with anticipation and hope for the Light of the World to come. On this 4th Advent Sunday, we want to examine the Christmas story to see the JOY in it. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isaiah 9:6) and “He shall reign forever and ever” (to borrow from Handel’s Messiah’s Hallelujah chorus).
Many in the Christmas story were filled with awe and wonder at the birth of Jesus. But there was also great rejoicing. Let’s start with Mary:
"And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." Lk 1:46-47
This is the beginning of what is called Mary’s song of praise or “Magnificat.” Notice how Mary starts out when Elizabeth blesses her (v. 42-46). Her first words are “my soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary’s response to God’s grace is to glorify Him and rejoice in her heart. Now to understand what Mary really said, we need to look at the word that is used for rejoice.
21 ἀγαλλιάω [agalliao /ag·al·lee·ah·o/] v. From agan (much) AV translates as “rejoice” seven times, “be exceeding glad” once, “be glad” once, “greatly rejoice” once, and “with exceeding joy” once. 1 to exult, rejoice exceedingly, be exceeding glad.
In fact this word means more than just to be happy. It means to leap for joy, to show one’s joy by leaping and skipping denoting excessive or ecstatic joy or delight. Mary just took off dancing and leaping and skipping all over Elizabeth’s house. Can you picture that in your mind—Mary and Elizabeth dancing and leaping around the room with such joy that they can’t stop themselves until they finally fall down with exhaustion? Why even the baby John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb for joy (v. 44) when he heard Mary’s voice—now that is true rejoicing!
What about the shepherds? Being a shepherd was not an easy life. They were poor nomads living in the open fields. Did these rough men rejoice like Mary?
"And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." Lk 2:9-20
Vs. 16 says they “hurried off” and found Mary and Joseph. The angel had declared to them that the birth of this child was “good news of great joy.” Then to hear the heavenly choir of angels singing, how could they not have been filled with great joy? Then when they saw the baby, it says they went about spreading the word “concerning what had been told them about this child.” What had they been told? This was good news of great joy! Vs 20 tells us that they returned, “glorifying and praising God.” I can imagine these rough shepherds doing a little two-step as they went around the area proclaiming the news! Wouldn’t you if you had been in their shoes?
We Three Kings of Orient Are . . .—what a somber song. Can you hear them trudging along on their camels? Could three wise men rejoice over the birth of baby?
"When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy." Mt 2:10
Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
Their joy knew no bounds.
Can you picture these 3 kings dancing and leaping around in the middle of the night? I’m sure they struck up the band and had some kind of party. Imagine what the people traveling with them must have thought. “Why, they had been out in the hot sun too long—they had finally lost it. How foolish to take off following some star to see a King who was going to be born.” But the 3 Kings were overjoyed (ecstatic) with the fact that the star that they had followed for so long, had not left them. Then they knew that their journey had not been in vain and they would see the King of the Jews. Can you imagine what a party they must have had on the trip home? As each one recounted how he had presented his gift of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the King of Kings, they would have been so full of joy that they just celebrated all the way home.
As we have looked at each of these people involved in the Christmas story, we have seen how joy has overtaken them and they could not contain it. I wonder today when we hear the Christmas story if we are overcome with that same kind of joy?
For many this is a sad time of the year. Maybe due to the death of a loved one, or a divorce, or simply because they have the winter blues. Did you know that there really is such a thing? It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, and is a type of depression that occurs during the winter months. One of the most recommended treatments for SAD is increasing your exposure to light. Since the disease's symptoms are triggered by a lack of light, spending more time outside in natural daylight may help get rid of the symptoms.
It is tough to find joy when you are hurting so bad due to the losses of life, but what about the rest of us who may not be going through a difficult time in our lives? We may become depressed over the commercialism and taking of Christ out of Christmas. We may just be overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle, parties, work, family plans, etc until we become like Scrooge and declare “bah humbug!” Or are we overflowing with joy over the birth of our Lord and Savior? Are we able to celebrate the Advent season with joy in our hearts like Mary, the shepherds, and the 3 wise men?
Let’s look for a moment at Isaiah 9
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil." Is 9:2-3
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Is 9:6
In vs. 3, the word joy or rejoice is used 4 times—4 times in one verse that must be significant. It is very clear that Isaiah saw the birth of the Messiah as a reason to rejoice. Not only to be glad or happy, but to be ecstatic—as people who have seen a great harvest come in, or as men who have won a great battle would rejoice as they are dividing up the spoils of war—whooping and hollering, leaping and dancing—just like Mary!
I believe that as we meditate on the fact that God fulfilled His promise to send our Savior that we can find joy each day, no matter what circumstances we face. As believers the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy is one of the fruit of the spirit that God develops in us (Gal 5:22). We are told to count it all joy, when we go through trials and tribulations (James 1:2). In fact, scripture tells us that in His presence is fullness of joy and at His right hand are pleasures forever more!” (Psa 16:11)
"Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls." 1 Pe 1:6-9
Now I want you to know that the word we saw in Luke 1:47 for rejoice is the same word that is used here for rejoice. That means that when we go through trials and grief, we are to dance and leap around with abandon like Mary! Is that crazy? Maybe, but it is true that no matter what we go through, the purpose is to refine our faith—proving it’s worth and genuineness—so that we can learn to give praise, honor, and glory to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We can have confidence that He is at work in us bringing our salvation to pass. Then according to vs. 8 because we believe in Him we are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy—filled to overflowing so that we cannot contain it. Maybe it is not physical leaping and dancing, but an inner peace and joy that knows no bounds and sometimes spills over into the physical. This joy is not just being happy, but a deep confidence that God will do what He has promised He will do—no matter how bad it looks. When we show this kind of joy to the world, then they will know that our faith is real and they will want to know our Savior.
In these scriptures, we have seen the phrase “great joy,” or “exceeding joy” just as we saw in Isaiah 9:2 that the Messiah would be a great Light. The angel said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.“ The good news is that there is a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Our Savior was born in Bethlehem, over 2000 years ago. He is the Messiah, the anointed One of God, who will redeem us from the darkness of our sin. He is the Lord—God Himself come down in the flesh to fellowship with us. He is Immanuel—God with us, no matter where we are or what we are going through. This is the message of joy that we can have this Advent season!
Joy to the World!
Joy to the World! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the World! The Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy.
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, Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love.