By Randy Rhea
Joy to the World?
Well, it’s that time of year again! The season is upon us, our hymns are being played in the malls, and it’s the time for happiness and wonder and joy. Anyone else besides me feeling like I have already missed it again? (And I’m a preacher!)
With the business of life, all the holiday engagements to attend, all the stuff we are supposed to buy for everyone, all the navigation of sometimes complex and difficult family dynamics and all the missing loved ones that are no longer with us at the holidays, Christmas sometimes to me can feel like anything but joy! Yes, the preacher just said that! It can become the season not of joy, but rather of, “Oh, here we go again!” So, for the sake of my own soul, and maybe even yours, too, let’s take a breath together before we miss another one.
As you’re sitting in your den or in the doctor’s office reading this magazine, let me offer us a well-needed distraction from all the other distractions for just a moment. If you’re doing ok, then just permit me to indulge myself with a needed distraction from all the business already mentioned.
Two of my favorite things to behold are really good movies and really good hymnology, and yet there are times when the two line up perfectly. It is very rare, but from time to time it does happen. One of our family’s personal all-time favorite movies is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the Disney adaptation from the C.S. Lewis-based Chronicles of Narnia Series. In both the movie and the book, the land of Narnia has been placed under a spell by the White Witch that is described as, “Always Winter and Never Christmas”. She has cursed the land with a perpetual winter that includes no celebration or joy of any sort. Anyone caught violating this mandate is liable to be added to her grim collection of stone figures.
Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” (1719) is a beloved hymn of mine. He wrote that hymn summarizing Psalm 98 verse 4, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!”
I cannot watch scenes from that movie without the following verse from Watts’ hymn running through my mind: “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.” Though snow is the curse in the movie, and thorns and thistles are the curses in reality, the beauty remains the same.
One of the most popular Christmas songs of all time is “Joy to the World,” but did you know that it’s really not primarily about Christ’s first coming? It’s written about his second, just as Psalm 98 ends focusing on his second coming. There is no mention of shepherds or angels or wise men in the hymn, but there is mention of no more curse, and rocks and hills singing. When will that happen? When Christ returns! So, in Christmas, we miss the joy if we merely view the Advent without the Second Coming, I would humbly suggest. Here is what I mean, as I diagnose myself.
I think that is why I am so prone to miss the joy of Christmas some years—I tend to forget! In my fallenness, there is still a part of me that holds onto a nostalgic view that perhaps all things can be made right in this lifetime, and Christmas time is when we have the best shot of it coming true. Can’t there just be one time when everyone gets along, and is healthy, and gets the presents they want, and we can afford all we put on the credit card when January rolls around, and there just be joy for one day?
And yet, year after year it disappoints as if it were saying, “Hey preacher, it’s not going to be in this lifetime!” It’s not even going to be on Christmas morning around the tree when all is calm and bright and all the presents are wrapped and it’s time to tear into them. That is not going to happen until the return of the Lord Jesus to reign with his people forevermore. It is only then that all things will be made right forevermore because it is only then that all things will be made right for God.
We celebrate this time of year the One who came to us, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, by way of his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection, to deal with the curse and ultimately its cause, our sin. He has come indeed, and by way of his glorious grace, to make his wondrous blessings known as far as the curse is found.
I pray that you find that true reality within your own hearts as we prepare to celebrate Christmas together again this year. We live life that still bears the curse, and is considered winter in many seasons of our lives, but there is Christmas for us! He has come, he has made an end to our sin and we celebrate this glorious grace together. May you and yours find great grace to celebrate that though it be winter, there is Christmas within because there is Christ!
So, if you burn the turkey, if you buy the wrong model iPhone or iPad or whatever your cousins or kids thought they were entitled to again this year, feast on this grace with me. It’s okay, it isn’t supposed to all be right in this life, and it won’t be one second before the King returns. Joy to the world indeed, because he has come, and is coming again and when he does, then all things will be right forevermore and we will feast with him in boundless joy without end.
May He fill our hearts with the joy and peace and assurance that only He is able to, both this season and forevermore until we are with Him and there be no more winter, either without or within. Blessings to you all.
Randy Rhea is Senior Pastor at Madison Heights Church. He is married to Sheri and they have three children. In his free time, Randy enjoys hunting, golf, and running.