Christmas Advent 2010 #1 — Joy To The World

“Give me the songs of a nation and it matters not who writes its laws.” ~ Plato

I wanted to take this advent season and look at themes of the Gospel that are captured in what we sing while also examining a bit how that theme has gotten into other aspects of the Christian faith. We sometimes are not particularly epistemologically self conscious about what we sing and I wanted to do a little work on making us more so.

Plato understood the importance of the minstrel. People can be moved through song whereas they are typically bored by theology or philosophy proper. Song has the advantage of taking the lofty and making it manageable and so in making truth manageable it has the advantage over tomes of Law. Plato was communicating that a people animated by their songs would be dictating to their lawgivers what kinds of laws to write.

All that to say that music is important. What we sing is character revealing and character shaping.

One Carol we sing during this Christmas season is, “Joy to the World.”

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.

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.

——————
This Christmas carol was written by English author Isaac Watts (1674-1748), with music possibly adapted from Handel’s “Messiah”

“Joy to the World!” is taken from Psalm 98, a song of rejoicing at the wonderful ways in which God has protected and guided His chosen people. The Psalm anticipates the time when “Jehovah will be the God of the whole earth and Israel’s law will be accepted by all of the nations.” In the NT the theme of victory echoed in Psalm 98, and captured by “Joy To The World” is captured in pieces by Mary, the Mother of Jesus, Zechariah, and John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel.

Mary especially seems to have this Psalm in mind when her words are recorded in Luke 1.

Ps. 98 — “O Sing unto the Lord a new song.”
Luke — “My soul doth magnify the Lord”

Ps. 98 — “He hath done marvelous things”
Luke — “He that is mighty has done great things”

Ps. 98 — “W/ His own right hand and holy arm he gotten himself the victory
Luke — “He hath showed strength w/ His arm, and scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

Ps. 98 — “The Lord hath made known His salvation; His righteousness hath he openly showed,”
Luke — “His mercy is on them that fear him, from generation to generation.”

Psalm 98:3 — “He has remembered His mercy and his faithfulness to the house of Israel”
Luke 1:54 — (Mary)”He has holpen His servant Israel, In remembrance of His mercy.”

Adam Clarke offers here,

“This is a further argument that the whole Psalm, whether it record the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, or the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, is yet ultimately understood of the redemption of the world by Jesus Christ, and the proclamation of his Gospel through all the nations of the earth…

When we hear this language of “God remembering,” in Ps. 98:3 and in Luke 1 we must keep in mind that its connotation more than God having a bare memory but with the idea of God’s remembrance is included the favorable action of God on the behalf of those who He remembers. And of course the favorable action of God on the behalf of those who He remembers was providing an relief from His just opposition to sinners. God remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to His people by providing Jesus Christ as an atonement that would once for all provide a realized peace with God to a people whose peace with God was only promissory and proleptic. God remembered the Israel of God by providing one who would take away sin (expiation) turn the wrath of God away from sinners (propitiation) and relieve the Israel of God from guilt.

In light of God’s remembrance it is not a wonder that we don’t sing “Joy to the World” everyday.

Psalm 98:2 — “The Lord has made known His Salvation”
Luke 1:77 — (Zechariah) — “To give knowledge of Salvation to His people.”

Psalm 98:2 — “The Lord has made known His Salvation;
His Righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the Gentiles.”
Luke 2:31 — (Simeon)”For my eyes have seen Your Salvation,
which you have prepared before the face of all the peoples
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles

This idea of “The Lord has made known His Salvation connected with the arrival of Christ makes it clear that Christ is that Salvation. The motif of Victory we find in Psalm 98 is only what it is because God has objectively provided Salvation in the death, and resurrection of Christ. The Victory has been accomplished. The World has been saved. The unfolding of Redemption in Revelation that constantly spoke of the coming Kingdom has come and that Redemption, that Kingdom, that Victory is Jesus Christ. This is why we never tire of proclaiming Jesus Christ as God’s salvation. This is why we insist that all men everywhere either must repent or being steamrolled by this victory that God has provided. The Kingdom is “now,” and so “now is the appointed time of Salvation.” The Victory is complete and that is why there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved.” Either men will Kiss the Victorious Son, or they will perish in the way.

Psalm 98:3 — “All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”
Luke 3:6 — (John the Baptist) “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

“When combined with the previous couplet we see that this Salvation that is spoken of and the Salvation that we sing in “Joy to the World,” is a salvation that is globalistic. Jesus comes to provide salvation to every tribe, tongue, and nation, and in providing that globalistic salvation He inaugurates a Kingdom that will lead to a New World Order. A New World Order that finds the nations being brought into the Kingdom retaining their unique national character but finding a common spiritual bond in Christ. Together the diverse Nations will confess “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.” This is the New World Order — The Kingdom — The Victory — that we have been placed into and it is a New World Order that remains in antithesis to the order of this world characterized by the Prince of this present wicked age. The reality of this expectation that “all the ends of the earth would see the salvation of God” was seen on the day of Pentecost and in the book of Acts as the Gospel comes upon people of diverse tongues and then covers the known world via the Missionary effort. So, victorious was this Salvation that it could be said of the work of those who were heralding it to the Gentiles, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” They turned the world upside down and angered the Old World Order because it hates the marvelous things that God has done.

So we see that this Psalm of victory versified in “Joy To The World” was a Psalm of victory that was closely connected to the Birth of the Messiah who would bring victory by bring salvation to all the peoples.

In “Joy to the World,” Watts gave the Psalm its New Testament setting with its praise for the salvation that began when God came to earth as the incarnate Jesus, destined to remove curse from Adam’s fall. Interestingly enough, Watts first titled the Song “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

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This sense of Victory that we find in Psalm 98 and in Watt’s Hymn was common place enough throughout Church History. Athanasius, who lived through some of the worst persecution that the early Church knew, and who knew the trials of being a wilderness voice for orthodoxy on the trinity for nigh unto 40 years — A man who was exiled 5 times and was often in danger of losing his life could still speak of this victory. Athanasius could be Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the World) because the man believed that with Christ’s coming the Kingdom has come and the “age to come,” that Christ brought as that Kingdom was overcoming this present wicked age. Athanasius wrote to that end,

“Since the Savior came to dwell among us, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be. Similarly, not only does the wisdom of the Greeks no longer make any progress, but that which used to be is disappearing. And demons, so far from continuing to impose on people by their deceits and oracle-givings and sorceries, are routed by the sign of the cross if they so much as try. On the other hand, while idolatry and everything else that opposes the faith of Christ is daily dwindling and weakening and falling, see, the Savior’s teaching is increasing everywhere! Worship, then, the Savior “Who is above all” and mighty, even God the Word, and condemn those who are being defeated and made to disappear by Him. When the sun has come, darkness prevails no longer; any of it that may be left anywhere is driven away. So also, now that the Divine epiphany of the Word of God has taken place, the darkness of idols prevails no more, and all parts of the world in every direction are enlightened by His teaching. Similarly, if a king be reigning somewhere, but stays in his own house and does not let himself be seen, it often happens that some insubordinate fellows, taking advantage of his retirement, will have themselves proclaimed in his stead; and each of them, being invested with the semblance of kingship, misleads the simple who, because they cannot enter the palace and see the real king, are led astray by just hearing a king named. When the real king emerges, however, and appears to view, things stand differently. The insubordinate impostors areshown up by his presence, and men, seeing the real king, forsake those who previously misled them. In the same way the demons used formerly to impose on men, investing themselves with the honor due to God. But since the Word of God has been manifested in a body, and has made known to us His own Father, the fraud of the demons is stopped and made to disappear; and men, turning their eyes to the true God, Word of the Father, forsake the idols and come to know the true God.”

———————

This sense of victory we find in Psalm 98, and captured in “Joy to the World” — this sense of victory that was taken up by the saints in the book of Luke and taken up Athanasius — has been taken up throughout Church History. This sense of a victorious Gospel going with triumph to all the nations has, until recently, shaped and created the Western mind and so Western Civilization.

This sense of victory is seen in the great Cathedrals of Europe which now set largely empty because Europe has turned aside from the victorious Gospel. Previous generations of Christians, believing the victory of the Gospel would last millennium, built majestic and beautiful structures that were intended to communicate the sublime Glory of God and the beauty of the victorious Gospel. With their spirals pointing Man’s vision heavenward to God and with their interior Architecture that proclaimed Christ, these Cathedrals communicated the generational victory of the Gospel to the nations.

This sense of victory that is proclaimed in Psalm 98 and captured in “Joy to the World,” is seen as the motivating factor of much of the exploration and discovery of the New World

Over and over again, Columbus, as just one Example, states the purpose of his voyages to be that of bringing Christianity to the pagan isles. Note the following stated purpose of his first voyage:

“And your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes, devoted to the holy Christian faith and the propagation thereof — and enemies of the sect of Mohammet and of all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Christopher Columbus, to the said regions of India, to see the said Princes and peoples and lands and the disposition of them and of all and the manner which may be undertaken their conversion to our holy faith.” (The Journal of Christopher Columbus, translated by Cecil Jane, Bonanza Books, p. 4).

The second voyage had a similar end in view. The instructions from Ferdinand and Isabella declare the prime object of the voyage to be the conversion of the natives. The directives from the sovereigns for the third voyage in 1497 specify that Columbus engage priests to go with him to administer the sacraments and to “convert the Indians native of the said Indies to our Holy Catholic Faith.”

This expressed desire for the spiritual well-being of the natives never left Columbus. His Journal entry for Thursday, November 27, 1492, records this request:

“And I say that Your Highnesses must not allow any stranger, except Catholic Christians, to trade here or set foot here, for this was the alpha and omega of the enterprise, that it should be for the increase and glory of the Christian religion and that no one should come to these parts who was not a good Christian.” (Journal, p. 78)

The Apostle to the Indians, John Eliot began his ministrations to the Indians in their own language in 1646. His great work, the translation of the Bible into the tongue of the Massachusetts Indians, was finished in 1658 and published 1661–63. Praying Indians and reorganized Indian villages were part of the impact of Eliot’s work in the New World has the Indian nations proved the glories of God’s righteousness.

Much much more could be said but even from this much we understand why Watts could go all victorious when writing “Joy to the World.”

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

A theme that is likewise picked up in “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”

“For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.”
———————-
Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
—————–
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

———————-
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

—————–
But it has not been only Christmas Carols that have captured Psalm 98

Christ shall have dominion, over land and sea,
Earth’s remotest regions shall His empire be;
They that wilds inhabit shall their worship bring,
Kings shall render tribute, nations serve our King.

Ever and forever shall His Name endure;
Long as suns continue it shall stand secure;
And in Him forever all men shall be blest,
And all nations hail Him King of kings confessed.
—————–

Jesus shall reign where e’er the sun
doth his successive journeys run;
his kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
till moons shall wax and wane no more.

————————

Stand up, stand up for Jesus,
ye soldiers of the cross;
lift high his royal banner,
it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory
his army shall he lead,
till every foe is vanquished,
and Christ is Lord indeed.

——————-

The Christian world has come to largely worship the Jesus of the crucifixion abstracted from the Jesus of victory — the Jesus of the Resurrection and the Ascension and the Session — The Jesus who even now sits at the right hand of the Father who has all things under His feet and has been given to be head over all things to the Church. The Protestant world has forgotten the Jesus who rules, sitting at God’s right hand, while His enemies are being made His footstool. The Protestant world has forgotten the God who commands the elites, the powerful, and moneyed to “Kiss the Son” lest they perish in the Way. Every year when we sing “Joy To The World” we are reminded of a time when the Church believed in King Jesus — the Jesus of the Bible.

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Conclusion

So, it is my prayer that we take the Scriptural theme seriously that “Joy to the World” captures. Christ has come to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.

The curse is found everywhere and so we should expect his blessings to flow everywhere.

Christ is victorious and triumphent

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Kinist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture . Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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