Summary: Has the Bethlehem child changed your life? If He is your Lord and King … if He reigns over your heart and soul … if He has changed your life … then He rules over your heart and soul and life with perfect truth and grace then you can’t help but sing: Joy to the world!
I head a story about a woman who was doing her last-minute Christmas shopping at a crowded mall. She was tired of standing in lines. She was tired of fighting her way down long aisles looking for a gift … only to find out that it had sold out days before. Her arms were full of bulky packages when the elevator door opened. Of course, it was full!
The occupants of the elevator grudgingly tightened ranks to make a small space for her and her load. As the door closed, she blurted out: “Whoever is responsible for this whole Christmas thing ought to be arrested, strung up, and die a slow and painful death.” A few occupants of the elevator nodded their heads or grunted in agreement. Then someone from the back of the elevator piped up: “They already did.”
This Advent we’ve been taking a close look at the carols that we usually sing every year at Christmas. So far, we’ve looked at: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” … “O Little Town of Bethlehem” … “O Come, All Ye Faithful” … and “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.” Tonight we’re going to look at a song that Isaac Watts wrote almost 300 years ago: “Joy to the World.”
We think of this as a Christmas carol, but if you look at the lyrics, it only hints at Jesus’ birth. We could easily use it as a general-purpose song of praise. The words were inspired by Psalm 98. If you look at the bottom of the page, it says that Watts based this carol on Psalm 98:4-9 specifically.
Let’s face it … Christmas is a stressful time for most adults. For some, it’s a time of intense loneliness or crushing grief because of a loved one who is gone. Even at its best, Christmas means parties to plan … parties to attend … gifts to buy … elaborate meals to cook … goodies to bake … long trips to take … or out-of-town guests to host. Instead of bringing joy to our world it can bring a lot of stress and frustration.
We need to remember who is responsible for this “whole Christmas thing.” It’s all about how God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life (John 3:16). Unfortunately, many people leave the reason … Christ … out of the season. Instead of looking TO Jesus, they are looking FOR joy … anywhere and everywhere else. An interviewer once asked the entertainer, Madonna, this basic question: “Are you a happy person?” She replied: “I am a tormented person. I’m wrestling a lot of demons. But I want to be happy. I have moments of happiness. I am working towards knowing myself … and I assume that will bring me happiness.” And we all know what happens when we “assume” don’t we?
Pretty much everybody wants happiness, amen? In fact, most of what people do is for the purpose of “finding” happiness. People work hard so they can buy the possession that they think will make them happy. They look for happiness in entertainment, hobbies, sports, various addictions. Or … like Madonna … they look deep, deep, deep within … thinking that maybe that’s where they’ll find this elusive happiness hiding.
Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that there is a big, big difference between “happiness” and “joy.” The root of the word “happiness” is what? You naturally think “happy” but “happiness” and “happy” share the same root or concept as the meaning of the word “happen.” So … “happiness” and “happy” are based on what’s “happening.” Happiness depends on our circumstances and our circumstances are constantly changing. For most people, happiness is nothing more than a temporary interruption to boredom.
Interestingly enough, the Bible doesn’t speak much about “happiness” … but it does speak a whole lot about “joy.” The kind of joy that the Bible speaks about goes much deeper than mere happiness. Genuine joy … the kind the Bible speaks about … does not depend on our circumstances. Joy is an inner sense of well-being that has nothing to do with what’s happening or what’s going on in our lives. The kind of joy the Bible describes can’t be found in our possession or entertainment. You won’t find it by looking deeply into your inner self because the kind of joy the Bible speaks about doesn’t come from you. Care to guess where it can be found and who it comes from?
Isaac Watts goes straight to our only source of true joy. There is one reason … and one reason only … there is joy in the world. There is joy in the world because “the Lord has come!” (stanza 1a).
If you receive Christ as King of your life, He provides joy … He is and will be your source of joy. In the same way that your body craves food, exercise, and rest, so you spirit, your soul, craves a relationship with God. Without that relationship, your soul will become famished and restless. You can try to fill that hole with anything and everything and I promise you, you won’t find happiness … not for long. Trust me. I’ve been there and I’ve tried. But if you fill it with God, you’ll experience joy because you will be giving your spirit, your soul, what it needs, what it craves. Again, trust me. I’m speaking from personal experience. And those of you who have tried to find happiness by trying to fill that hole but found God and now have joy in your life, you know what I’m talking about, amen?