As a kid growing up my favorite Christmas song was always Joy to the World. Even before I knew exactly what it meant it was so energetic and joyful that it always made me happy and I enjoyed singing it. Now that I know the meaning of the song, I like the song even more.
We sing Joy to the World at Christmas but if you pay attention to the lyrics you may notice that it is not the traditional story of angels, shepherds, or a baby in a manger. There is something that seems magical at Christmas time – angels singing to lowly shepherds, the birth of a little baby, and peace on earth goodwill to men. But the words of Joy to the World are not magical, mystical, or warm and fuzzy. They are words that will only be accomplished by the miraculous hand of God.
Christmas is also known as advent and during Sunday school we light advent candles. Advent means coming or to come. It is not a celebration of the past so much as it is an anticipation of the future. So it is with the song Joy to the World. The song was not written as a Christmas song but a song of anticipation of Christ’s return.
Indeed some of the central ideas behind Christmas – peace on earth, good will to men – we do not have yet. Jesus birth, nor even His death on the cross accomplished everything. It set it into motion but we have not seen the full results yet. Five minutes of the news or a glance at the daily paper shows us that there is not peace on earth yet today. But there will be a day when this is true and all will be fulfilled. And it all started with the birth of Jesus.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.
When Jesus was born, very few recognized him as king. Matthew 2 tells the story of the Magi from the east.
1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5″In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6″ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
Who were these strange men from the east that came to worship the king of the Jews? Why would anyone from the east want to have anything to do with the Jewish faith and the king they were awaiting?
Due to their knowledge of scripture these men are likely from Babylon. Daniel was head over the MAGIstrates and the king’s MAGIcians. He had such an impact on those that he led that the people were still following scripture over 500 years later and were looking for the birth of the Messiah.
The Magi recognized Bethlehem as the place where the Savior was to be born but not the Jew to whom the prophecy was given. As the Magi report that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, Herod has no interest in worship, he desired to destroy any threat to his throne.
The Magi were not at the original manger as is so often depicted but instead arrived some time later. It says that they arrived at the house where Mary and Jesus were. Most likely Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem for some time. If for no other reason, has anyone given birth and felt like climbing on a donkey’s back and riding several miles? What about walking the same distance? Now what about doing so without the benefit of modern pain medicine?
Herod’s later reaction to kill all the boys under two does not mean that Jesus was two at the time. Herod was ruthless and brutal. If the Magi told him six months or a year he would have made it two years just to be certain. When Herod knew he was going to die, he knew he was a miserable old man and that the Jews would not mourn him. So he gathered 3000 men into an arena with instructions that they were to be killed at the news of his death so that there would be mourning in Jerusalem. Fortunately the man in charge did not give the order to kill the men because he said he did not take orders from dead men.
At Jesus death one other person recognized him as a king and it came from another unlikely source, Pontius Pilate. Pilate had a sign placed above Jesus on the cross that said “King of the Jews.”
Jesus may not yet be king of the Jews but He may be king of our hearts today.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
All creation is a testimony to God. Romans 1:20 tells us that everyone is without excuse because creation points to a creator:
20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
But God will work through nature to present His message not just in what is created but through a continuation of what is around us. At His triumphal entry Jesus was rebuked for the jubilation of his followers.
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40″I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
But all of creation will be in harmony when Jesus reigns over the earth. Isaiah 11:6-9 tells of the time when this will take place.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
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.
At the fall of man, perfection was lost. Life is hard. Food doesn’t magically appear before us, now the shelter above our heads. Farmers understand this best of all perhaps. There are floods and droughts that must be endured. Insects eat crops and disease affects plants and animals.
When Christ returns there will not just be peace on earth among men, nature will return to the time before it was cursed.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
We just looked at Philippians 2 last week but this bears repeating because I didn’t emphasize this part.
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
The little baby in a manger that we celebrate will be acknowledged as king whether we do so today or not. Jesus Christ is Lord because of what he did and will do. Today we celebrate a baby but He’s a baby he died on the cross for our sins. We have forgiveness because of what that baby did as a man.
We also look forward to the day when Jesus returns and brings about the fulfillment of peace on earth and goodwill to men. Then there will truly be joy to all the world.