What a wonderful announcement long ago in a field somewhere on the outskirts of Bethlehem! Shepherds, paralyzed by fear, heard a stunning and fear-allaying message:
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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-12 (ESV)
Forever, the Christmas story would be linked with “great joy.” And for good reason. In the fullness of time, the Savior was born. The little babe was and is “Christ the Lord.” Our Redeemer had arrived!
Joy—that emotion akin to happiness but running much deeper and grounded in God’s person, promises, and activity in the world and thus, unable to be disturbed by changing, outward circumstances.
One expression of our joy during this season is the hymn “Joy to the World.” The astute among us recognize that this hymn really speaks of Christ’s second coming, not so much His first. Written by Isaac Watts, the song was first published in 1719 as part of Watts’s collection: The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. Watts based his song on Psalm 98, not on the events of Christmas.
Yet, I find within the Christmas story, the understanding and foreshadowing of the second coming as well. However you might understand eschatology, the Christmas story is not complete without the life of Christ, the death and burial of Christ, His resurrection, and His Second Coming. The first coming of Christ sets in motion all of that—and knowing that brings us great joy. It is perfectly appropriate to sing “Joy to the World” thinking of both His first and His second coming. Actually, if you carefully read the Christmas story you can’t think of one without the other!
Matthew, in his account of the birth of Christ, refers to both past prophecies and their future fulfillment in the Second Coming. Our Lord’s birth is the fulfillment Of Isaiah 7:14. The child’s virgin birth and name “Immanuel” or “God with us” speaks of an eternal enduring that transcends His first appearance on earth. Matthew also quotes Micah 5:2, a prediction of the birthplace of the shepherd-ruler of Israel. Jesus will be the great shepherd-ruler of Israel at His Second Coming but clearly establishing His right to rule and His qualifications to rule at His first coming. The wise men have great joy in finding the child (Mat.2:10) knowing that they have found the “king of the Jews.” His full crowning will occur in His Second Coming.
The glorious announcement of the angel to Mary makes clear that our Lord’s birth will usher in an eternal Davidic reign and kingdom.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Luke 1:30-33 (ESV)
Much remains unfulfilled in His first coming but a throne is coming. The angel looks ahead, not just to His arrival and ministry on earth but also to the final and complete fulfillment of the purpose in His coming. These promises will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus Christ the Lord takes His seat on the great white throne (Rev. 20:11).
So it is great to sing “Joy to the World” at Christmas. Not only do we know that Jesus Christ came to give His life as a ransom payment for our sins, but we also know that one day He is coming back! We have a deep-seated and enduring passion/joy that one day He will wipe away every tear. Christmas reminds us of a birth, a life, a death, a burial, a resurrection, and a coming again!
In these turbulent and difficult times, may this Christmas not just be a reminder of His first Coming but His second Coming as well. Joy to the World!