Christ-Exalting, Gospel-Proclaiming, Holiday Favorites: Joy to the World

Christ-Exalting, Gospel-Proclaiming, Holiday Favorites

I love this time of year. Christmas begins at my house on November 1st. The tree goes up, the lights turn on, and we begin our 55 days of Christmas countdown. It has become somewhat of a joke in our family, but we are unashamedly festive. I love everything about the holidays. The cookies, the movies, the time with family – it all goes into making a memorable time together as we celebrate the birth of our Lord. But most of all, I love the music.

Christmas songs are probably the most iconic, well known songs in our culture. We have been blessed over the years with all sorts of memorable and lovable songs, celebrating both something explicitly Christian, as well as songs simply celebrating the traditions that we have adopted. What always strikes me, though, are how theologically rich some of the most popular Christmas songs are. There is no other time of the year you will hear lyrics about the wrath of God, the love of Christ, and the salvation of mankind while walking through the mall. As Christians, we should not take this for granted. It is a non-threatening opportunity to have open and honest dialogue with others about who Jesus really is.

I want to take a look at four of these songs this December, one for each week of the advent, and unpack what they say about God, about Man, about Christ, and about our response to him. In short, I want to unpack the gospel-centered nature of some of our favorite Christmas carols.

Joy to the World

Perhaps one of the most well known Christmas songs, this song has so much to say about the state of mankind and the grace of God. Penned by well-known hymn writer Isaac Watts, it is one of the songs that most everyone knows at least the first verse. However, it is one of those songs that is so well known that we may not take the time to actually think about what we are singing. If we slow down and examine the lyrics, the Christ-exalting theology jumps off the page.

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, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

The Christ has arrived! He has been given to mankind! This should cause joy to overcome his people. This echoes the words the angel proclaimed in Luke 2: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) This is good news for those who are prepared to receive him, to trust him, to treasure him, and like the angels we respond with joyful song!

Verse 2
Joy to the earth! 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.

Christ alone rules and reigns at the right hand of the Father (Acts 5:31). He has been given authority over all things (Matt 28:18) He is the sovereign Lord, the Christ who has been highly exalted (Phil 2:9-11). The savior truly does reign! It is because of the incarnation of Christ that we can rejoice, and not only mankind, but all of creation with him. It will not be stopped.

Jesus spoke to this in Luke 19. “As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:37-40)

Even as Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point, it is clear. We praise his name, it cannot and will not be stopped, and all creation echoes our song. 

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, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.

The Fall as recorded in Genesis 3 affected all of mankind. As God pronounced curses for disobedience, he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:17-19)

Not only did mankind experience death due to their sin, the whole earth was cursed. Thorns and thistles choked out its produce. God’s good creation was affected by the disobedience of its caregiver. But now, the Christ has arrived and he is the promised Son who will reverse all of this. He is coming to make his blessings flow, bringing with him a new creation and making all things new! (Rev 21:5)

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, And wonders of his love, And wonders, wonders, of his love.

Christ rules the earth, and he does this as the righteous and just king. In the book of Revelation, we see a clear picture of King Jesus. In Revelation 4, he is sitting on the throne. In Revelation 5, we see that his kingdom extends to all nations, all peoples of the earth. Of Jesus it says, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10) Christ rules the world, and he does this in righteousness and love. He has died to ransom a people for himself – all those who look to him in faith. All nations, all peoples fall under his dominion, and it is through the salvation of men and women that we see the fullness of his love on display.

Singing Theology

This Christmas we will hear many songs. Some will be about jolly old Saint Nick, some about Grandma getting trounced by reindeer, and our family will enjoy singing those. But some songs, the best songs, will speak to the reason we celebrate this time of year in the first place. This season, when we sing Joy to the World, we sing of the curse of mankind because of his sin, the reversal of this curse that is brought about by Jesus, and the inauguration of His kingdom. Joy to the world indeed.