There are many songs which mark this season of the year. Some of them are from a completely secular point of view, and they describe the many aspects of the holiday season. Most of us enjoy these songs, such as “Frosty the Snowman,” “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,” or “Silver Bells.”
Other songs of the season come from a purely religious perspective, as they convey the story of the birth of our Lord. Many of us enjoy these songs as well. Some of them stir strong feelings in our hearts, such as “Silent Night,” or “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” At the same time, however, some of us are often uncomfortable with these songs. Our discomfort is not because they promote some falsehood about our Lord, although some, like “Little Drummer Boy,” are completely fanciful in content. Our discomfort with these religious Christmas songs is due to the fact that they only tell the beginning of the story, and leave out the power of who Jesus is.
One of my favorite songs of the season is “Joy to the World.” The words are by Isaac Watts and the music is by Handel, which is a rich pedigree in religious music. (I have to confess, however, that my appreciation of this song is due in large part to a rendition of it done by Mannheim Steamroller some years ago.) Like many religious songs of the season, this song evokes in most minds only the baby in the manger. We know this because virtually no one sings “Joy to the World” at any other time than December. One wonders if this is the only time of year that the world feels any joy about the Lord Jesus Christ.
In point of fact, only the first stanza of “Joy to the World” specifically relates to the birth of Jesus. Each of the succeeding three stanzas extols the reign of the Lord, and with a decidedly millennial perspective at that. If we are concerned at all about the truthfulness of our songs, perhaps this is one whose words are better left unsung at any time of the year.
The larger question, however, remains. What is it about Jesus that should bring joy to the world? Many will argue, in the spirit of the season, that it is His birth that brings joy to the world. There is no doubt that joy was expressed at the Lord’s birth. In Lk. 2:10 the angel told the shepherds that he had “good news of great joy which will be for all the people.” But this is just the beginning of the story. If Jesus is left in the manger, there is no joy at all, because another angel prophesied that “He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The baby in the manger could not, and did not, accomplish this.
As God intended it from before the beginning of time, the joy which Jesus brings to the world is that He would be the perfect sacrifice for all the sins of the world, and that through Him mankind could be reconciled to God. In Eph. 1:7 Paul said, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.”
When the gospel was preached for the very first time, as recorded by Luke in Acts 2, the apostles did not preach the birth of Jesus. They did not preach the baby in the manger. Instead, they preached the crucified, resurrected Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 2:36). At no time thereafter did any apostle, or preacher, or elder of the church preach joy to the world in the form of baby Jesus. Their preaching was always “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Ultimately, joy to the world can only be found in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ who now reigns over His kingdom. On the basis of this truth we may sing joy to the world each and every day.