Listen to the Words - Song Two
A Christmas Series by Pastor Greg Crawford
Joy to the word, the Lord is come, let Earth receive her king
These are the opening words of Isaac Watts’ famous Christmas carol, Joy to the World. Well, that’s a partly true statement. It is famous, it was written by Isaac Watts, but it really wasn’t a Christmas carol when Watts wrote it. In fact, if you look at the words, the song is less concerned with the nativity of Christ, his incarnation, and the Christmas story, as it is focused upon the second coming of Christ. This doesn’t mean that we can’t sing it at Christmas, it just means that many have failed to listen to the message within the song and have ignored the theology therein, most likely due to the fact that they’ve become desensitized to the language of the song as a result of singing it over and over and over again. It has been used in Christmas pageants, movies, and for holiday elevator music for so long, that no one even questions that it is a Christmas song.
The first verse alone should give away the fact that this is not about a baby in a manger. John tells us that the world did not “receive” Jesus at his first coming. “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” (John 1:9–11 ESV) However, Watts writes about a coming of Christ where the Earth will receive Him. “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11 ESV)
Let’s look at these verses together and examine the theology behind the language used
Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.
Much has already been spoken about this first verse, but the last two lines deserve attention. Watts understood that before Christ’s second coming, it was imperative that humanity orient their “hearts” in such a way that there was room for the Messiah. But not just a small place in the corner, not just the leftovers, but the heart must receive Christ as the “KING.”
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
The second verse repeats some themes from the first verse while offering some new theological insights. The “Savior reigns” is just another way of saying that Jesus is king. That is a theological truth worth repeating, but even more worth acknowledging in how we live. One of the results of the Lord being king and reigning in our lives is the God given gift of song. In verse one Watts states, “let heaven and nature sing” and then in verse two states “let men their songs employ.” This was an important concept to Watts and he even called out believers from his era that refused to worship through song by stating “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God” in his hymn “We’re marching to zion.”
This is a biblical concept. Consider these verses:
Ephesians 5:18–21 (ESV)
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Colossians 3:16 (ESV)
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Don’t make excuses. Don’t say, “I can’t carry a tune in a bucket” or “it’s too hard to sing those songs” or whatever other reason you may choose for not lifting your voice up in song. Whether you are in Church, at your house, driving down the road…let your soul magnify the Lord through song. Remember, Watts is calling you out in his hymnology…remember, God is calling you out in His scripture.
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.
When Jesus came as a baby, it did not put to end all the sins and sorrows of our day. Yet, since Watts is writing about the eschaton, where there will be a new heaven and a new earth, where God and the Lamb will reign supreme, this is the theological truth being highlighted. Jesus inaugurated His Kingdom on earth through the incarnation, but there are greater manifestation of God’s reign to come. He is working to roll back the “curse” mentioned in this passage. We are all cursed men and women. We live in a broken world. And as Jesus walked the earth, His ministry reminded us that there was a coming Kingdom untouched by the curse. When Jesus healed the blind, He was demonstrating that there is a Kingdom coming without blindness. When Jesus raised the dead, He was testifying to the eternal life of the saints in His coming Kingdom. When Jesus’ Spirit came down in Acts 2 and caused everyone to understand one another, even though they were from varying regions and spoke different languages, He was reminding believers that languages were a result of sin (Genesis 11) and that He was indeed rolling back the curse as we approach His Kingdom. It is a Kingdom that does not grow thorns, but the fruit of the tree of life that is for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22)
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
The “nations” is the last thing I’ll bring out here. The Bible is a book about “nations.” It starts out describing how we all come from one family, and how our sin divided us. But it ends reminding us that every tribe nation and tongue will bow before the Messiah and that the Kings of the “nations” will bring God’s glory into the New Jerusalem one day (Rev 21:24). God’s righteousness and His wondrous love will somehow bind men and women together into one family, something that religion, politics, humanitarianism, force, or any other attempt has failed to accomplish. To God be the Glory, and may it be a reason for you to have “JOY” this season.