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The gospel of Luke tells its readers that a multitudinous choir of angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The hearers of those words were poor and lonely shepherds near Bethlehem. Since then, the Christian believers the world over have been able to sing many joyous carols of Christmas. One of them is “Joy to the World,” written by Isaac Watts, the son of an English deacon.
As a small boy, his mother held him in her arms as she stood at the prison gate while visiting his father, who had been imprisoned “for conscience’s sake,” and sang hymns to cheer him. When Isaac grew older he was disturbed with the lack of enthusiasm in congregational singing in his father’s church, so he attempted to change that by writing many songs which were sung in the church.
In 1719, when he was a preacher himself, he wrote, “Joy to the World,” a hymn based on the 98th Psalm. Set to joyous music adapted from Handel’s Messiah, the hymn provides believers with triumphant Christmas music. The words “joy,” “world,” “Lord,” and “come” in the phrase, tell all people that “the Lord is come,” which proclaims the wonderful Christmas message.
Those angels were not dreadful news heralds nor the messengers of death. Instead, they were angels of light who sang a message of hope, which said (Luke 2:10), “ Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, ...”
“Joy” has a much deeper meaning than words such as “fun” or “pleasure.” Joy was just the opposite of what the shepherds had been experiencing. It was a drastic change of feeling for them. In fact, the world for the shepherds and most everyone else was filled with fear, poverty, oppression, sickness, ignorance, despair, doubt and spiritual darkness.
They were told to “stop being afraid.” Instead of being paralyzed with fear, they were told to be filled with joy. The angels brought good news that brings deep and abiding joy — deep, because it meets our needs, and abiding because it lasts forever.
The word “world” embraces the different kinds of people in the world and the different kinds of worlds in which people live. It includes people of all races, national groups, religions, cultural levels and economic standing.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Good news comes to a few people on various occasions, but the Christmas message is good news for all people, for every person on earth who is willing to receive it.
Luke tells us (2:11), “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Many messianic promises were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus. God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. The angels’ words spoke of the nearness of opportunity for all people. They spoke of the present time, and that the need for waiting is over, because the Lord has been “born this day.”
There is no need to wait for some other expectation. There is no need to wait any longer for forgiveness, for the Redeemer has come.
W.M. Clow related the story of an English novelist who told of a boy who was being educated at a public school. His father was employed in a foreign country and his mother had died in giving him birth. When his school fellows spoke of their homes, and when they left him at every vacation to rejoin their fathers and mothers, the boy’s heart was heavy with a feeling of being an orphan. He had abundant tokens of his father’s care. He received a letter in every mail. His father’s portrait hung in his own room. But the boy longed to see his father.
News came that the father was coming home and the boy went down to meet him. As the steamer was being moored to the dock, he saw his father leaning forward. He saw him spring down the gangplank and he found himself clasped in his father’s arms.
“Father” had been only a word. Now the word was made flesh. So Christ was born in Bethlehem and dwelt among men. The Lord has come to His creation. Now it is time for the creation to come to the Lord, or as the hymn says, “Let earth receive her King,” and people can triumphantly sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”
Ray Hodge is a retired Baptist pastor living in Smithfield. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.