I recently got back from a mini vacation. While I was gone, I got the chance to relax and Christmas shop a bit. You know, without anyone begging me to buy them something or asking how many more stores we had to go to. It was lovely. More than once I found myself humming Joy to the World as it played in the background of more than one store throughout the day. I know some people get sick of the familiar Christmas tunes because the retail industry starts playing them so early in the season, but not me, I love it and Joy to the World is one of my all time favorites. Anyone else? Either way, if you love all the Christmas music or you get sick of it after awhile, have you ever wondered why we sing the Christmas songs that we sing?
I mean, Christmas is the day we celebrate Jesus laying down His royalty and leaving His throne to be born a human baby.
Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.
Sunday school teachers and children’s pastors everywhere throw birthday parties for Jesus complete with balloons and cake every year to drive this point home for our youngest followers. We give each other gifts to remember how the wise men brought gifts to the baby. Businesses close down to give employees time to celebrate with friends and family. Have you ever wondered why, if we are so intentional about celebrating Jesus’ birthday, we don’t hear the Happy birthday song playing in malls as we shop in uninterrupted bliss for just the right gifts for our friends and families? Why don’t we end every Christmas Eve service with Happy Birthday instead of Silent Night? I’m being a little facetious. Obviously the birthday song would get old fast and let’s be real, it’s hard to sing along to, but in all seriousness I think the celebration of the birth of our King is just far more than a verse or two of Happy birthday, don’t you?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love birthday parties and celebrating people and wishing people Happy birthday, I even love the cake.
I just think there is more to it than that.
A number of years ago now, I received a text message on my birthday from a friend of mine that completely changed me. He texted,
"Happy Birthday, my friend. I’m so glad you were born.”
It was so simple yet so impactful. It wasn’t just a wishful happy birthday, although that’s nice too and I honestly appreciate all the birthday encouragement, treats, social media shout outs, calls, and surprises that I get, but this was more like a “I see you and I value you and I’m grateful for you and I love you” kind of a thing. It was like his joy in our friendship wasn’t complete until he responded to my being born and his response was, “I’m so glad you were born”. It got me thinking about how joy works. We experience something wonderful and then we respond. The response is the completion of the joy in our lives. “I’m glad you were born” is how I now tell everyone happy birthday. I do want people to have a happy birthday but I want people to know that I see them and I value their lives even more! It completes my joy in the relationship. It’s like any other good thing in my life. When one of my children hits a home run or makes a goal or PR’s a run, I jump to my feet cheering and clapping. When I eat a delicious meal, I immediately tell everyone who will listen to try it too. When I find an incredible sale, I let everyone know that they should hurry and get it too. I’m sure it’s the same for you. We experience something wonderful and we respond.
I think that’s why we don’t hear Happy birthday over and over again during this holiday season…I think that’s why we don’t assemble on Christmas Eve and sing a few versus of the familiar party song; because our response to the birth of Jesus is far more than wishing Him a happy day. Instead we sing songs that declare the importance of our Creator ‘s birth to our lives. That’s why I found myself humming Joy to the world even while shopping.
I was enjoying the life God has provided for me and my response was a song.
C.S Lewis says it far more eloquently than I ever could:
“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with. . . . The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is ‘to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’ But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”
We sing Joy to the World instead of Happy Birthday as a way of saying,
“Jesus, we’re so glad you were born!”
We sing “ The Lord has come” as our response to all that Jesus was born to do for us…we sing, “The Savior reigns” as a response to complete our joy in Him. We sing, “He rules the world with truth and grace” because our response, our enjoyment in Him, is worship.
We were created to worship and so make no mistake, we will end up worshipping something in this life. If we are not careful to respond to God’s mercies in our lives, even during times of hardship or trial or heartache or confusion or busyness, we risk becoming ungrateful and turning to other things to worship like exercise or money or fame or addictions or work or our appearance.
All of creation was made to worship, so even if we remain quiet…even if we turn our attention to other things and begin to worship the things of this world, even if we forget the weight and the significance of this season, Jesus will be worshipped anyway. As Jesus road into town before He gave up His life for us, His followers sang and shouted and cheered and enjoyed Him. Some Pharisees in the crowd told Jesus to make them be quiet, and Jesus said if they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!
Jesus doesn’t need us to worship Him; we need to worship Him!
The writer of Joy to the World understood this well and he wanted his response to all that God had done to be passionate and meaningful and poetic. He wanted the songs that he sang to be reminders of God’s faithfulness in His life and of the hope of Jesus. In his church days, they sang the Psalms because they didn’t have other songs to sing. He was tired of singing Psalm 98 over and over, so he decided to rewrite it in a fresh way…in a way that expressed how he felt. This song when it was written was cutting edge and new. Today it is a classic. When we sing Joy to the world we are looking back over all the marvelous, supernatural things God has done and anticipating not only the birth of our King but of His return. When we sing the words to this well loved Christmas song, we are sharing in the praises of all creation to our God.
Now, there are all kinds of different ways to respond to the things that God has done. We worship God in our day-to-day lives with the way that we use kind words with and about people. We worship by the way we handle conflict resolution. We worship in the way we obey our parents and the way we redirect our children. We worship with our finances and our service. I often point out to people that music isn’t the only way to worship, but it is just as important as any of the other ways in which we respond to God’s goodness.
Music…singing is powerfully important to our God.
The Bible contains over four hundred references to singing and fifty direct commands to us to sing. Commands. And we’re commanded not once, but twice, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to one another when we meet.
I used to be so afraid to offend fellow churchgoers with my off key singing that I just mouthed the words until my favorite pastor of all time called me out on it and told me that I didn’t have a choice. He said I was commanded to sing so I better make a joyful noise. I sing loud and proud now, but not because I was told I have to. What began as an act of obedience is now a joyful, heartfelt response to God.
You see, singing connects the words we sing with our hearts.
Our hearts are connected to God’s as we sing and celebrate and respond to Him.
The first part of Psalm 98 which did not make it into Joy to the World is, “Sing a new song”. In Revelation we are told to sing a new song because God has done a new thing.
God did a new thing when He sent Jesus to us. God will do a new thing when Jesus comes back again. And I believe God wants to do a new thing in and through each of our lives. As you sing Joy to the World in the coming days, I encourage you to look back and remember all the remarkable things God has done and anticipate the coming of Jesus…anticipate the new thing God wants to do in you. Let’s join with all creation to sing and celebrate and respond to God’s goodness. Let’s sing loud and proud, “Jesus, we are so glad you were born” and connect our hearts to the heart of God. Let’s start now.
Read these words and remember and praise all that God has done and will do.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come Let earth receive her King Let every heart prepare Him room And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing And heaven, and heaven and nature sing Joy to the world, the Savior reigns Let men their songs employ While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains Repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy Repeat, repeat the sounding joy 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, far as the curse is found Far as, far as the curse is found He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love And wonders, wonders of His love
As always, remember this: I love you and I’m glad you’re here. (Aka: I’m glad you were born.)