Theology of Worship: Joy to the World

Verse 1

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature sing.

In the Lutheran hymnal, the title comes from Luke 2:10, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.'” The angel told the shepherds this before they departed to see the newborn King. Luke doesn’t record the shepherds as having praised Jesus while they saw Him; they didn’t praise Him until after they returned to their fields (Luke 2:20). However, we see the joy of the wise men when they saw the newborn King. Matthew 2:11a, “And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him.” I imagine the wise men singing these words as they prostrated themselves before Christ the King. Just before this, the wise men asked Herod, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him” (Matthew 2:2). As we know, the angels sang praises unto Him, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). During his revelation, St. John heard all of Heaven praising Jesus, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready…” (Revelation 19:6-7). Several times in Revelation we see all of Heaven rejoicing in Christ. And in the Psalms we see the psalmists writing about creation itself praising God. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).

Verse 2

Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

This verse continues with the words from Luke 2:10—joy for all the people of the earth. “Let men their songs employ”—the Psalms are filled with similar imperative commands, calling all creation and mankind to praise YHWH. Psalms 148-150 especially speak this way, but I like Psalm 150 the most because as a musician, it focuses on manmade instruments:

Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty heavens! Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with lute and harp! Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with strings and pipe! Praise Him with sounding cymbals; praise Him with loud clashing symbols! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!

And all of creation repeats our praises, “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together” (Psalm 98:7-8).

Verse 3

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.

So far in this song we have sung reasons for why we must joyfully sing. Now here comes the Gospel message. The verse goes back to Genesis 3:18 with God’s curse on man, “thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.” Sin has entered the world, and man must now toil to eat from the ground. I believe what this verse is calling to mind is our forgiveness in Christ. Paul speaks on this justification, saying, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). Paul continues, saying we have died to our sins in baptism and have been made alive in Christ. Because of our baptism in Christ, we have no reason to let sin and sorrow grow. Indeed, we are simul iustus et peccator (simultaneously saint and sinner), yet as baptised children of God, His Spirit gives us the ability to choose Christ over sin—a choice we once did not have before acquiring the gift of faith. He has promised to give us this blessing as far as the curse is found. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12). This promise is repeated in Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Still, I think 2 Chronicles 16:9 records it best, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward Him.”

Verse 4

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

This verse immediately makes me think of the description of Christ’s kingship in Revelation 19:11, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war.” At Christ’s glorious return, the nations will prove the glories of His righteousness not just when He destroys the wicked—the enemies of His people—and when He destroys Satan and judges the wicked as King, but also through the wonders of His love when His Bride—the Church—are with Him in the holy city of New Jerusalem.

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