It's one of my favorite Christmas carols-the soaring music, the great harmonies, the inspiring words by Isaac Watts. This time of year there is Christmas-themed music wherever you go. Some of it is secular, sentimental or silly. But "Joy to the World" never disappoints.
We live in a world desperately in need of joy. From those living in poverty and distress to those overwhelmed with holiday obligations, we need joy. Joy is a gift. It is not forced or manufactured. It is genuine, spontaneous, and often unexpected. C.S. Lewis captures it well in his book, Surprised by Joy. When a young woman named Joy came into his solitary academic life, the joy that resulted was a surprise to him.
Joy is the prisoner being granted clemency after 33 years in jail. Joy is almost 200 nations agreeing to a plan to treat the earth as if there is a future. Joy is the kindness of a stranger who smiles at you when you are having a grumpy day. Joy is hearing that the insurance settlement is coming through, even though it was denied the first time. Joy is a father re-united with his children after deployment overseas. Joy is the outpouring of love by a community to a family who has lost a loved one.
Joy is the Word become flesh, dwelling among us. Joy is God so loving the world as to become one of us, to live with us, and to die for us. Joy is the surprise of the resurrection after the devastation of the crucifixion. Joy isn't cheap, and it isn't casual. Psalm 30 says it well:
"Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning."
There are 161 references to joy in the Bible, from Genesis to 3rd John. Joy doesn't come cheaply. It is always a gift. The angel tells the childless Zechariah that they will have a son, saying:
"You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth."
And then he is struck dumb until the baby is born and named John. When the angel appears to the shepherds on the night of Jesus' birth, the angel tells them,
"Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:"
As Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure in John's Gospel he tells them:
"When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you." (John 16:21-22)
Paul, exhorting the Philippians to model themselves after Christ, writes:
"If, then, there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind." (Philippians 2: 1-2)
And "the elder" writes in Third John:
"I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth."
(3 John 1:4)
As Christians, we walk in the truth that Jesus came among us as a vulnerable child, grew up surrounded by other children, and gave his life so that we might be spared from meaninglessness and death. That is our joy, and the joy we offer to the world which God so loves.
"Joy to the world, the Lord is come!"
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA