Resurrected Living
"What are you going to do with your new resurrected life? This is the heroic question." Richard Rohr

Joy to the World: A Christmas Homily


I want to invite you to remember what it was like to be a child on Christmas morning. Think back to waking up and being filled with excitement and wonder, rushing into the living room where the tree was lit and decorated and surrounded by presents, opening gifts in the presence of your family, and enjoying sweet treats and one another’s company. These are memories that we cherish. We hold on to them and cling to them because they mean so much to us. We attempt to recreate these moments for our children and grandchildren. Why? It is because these are moments where we experienced overwhelming joy.

We were filled with joy because everything in the world was right, as far as we knew. We knew nothing about war and rumors of war. We knew nothing about poverty and injustice. All we knew is that we were surrounded by the people we love and we were receiving generous gifts. Someone had been very good to us, and if we thought about it long enough, we might admit that we were not deserving of such generosity and abundance. Of course, this would only make our joy increase. This is why Christmas is so wonderful. It connects us with an essential Christian characteristic, joy.

As we all know, we don’t stay little forever. We quickly grow up, get a job, pay our bills, and all of a sudden we discover that Christmas is not the same as it was when we were a child. Life happens, and things change. For some, Christmas can be difficult because they have lost a loved one. Memories of loss can especially be fresh around the holidays. Sometimes we are burdened by debt, and we see Christmas as a time that only increases that debt. Others might not be able to visit their family for Christmas. They might be separated from the ones they love.

One thing is for sure, as we grow older, we are much more aware of the sin and evil that corrupts the world. We know all too well about hunger, injustice, war, and the many other problems people are facing around the globe. We might get a day or two off from work to be with family and friends, but then we are immediately thrown back into the daily grind. On Christmas morning, we are already thinking about the coming workday. We are contemplating what has to be done. It is difficult to be joyous when we cannot take our minds off the thorns and thistles we labor among.

For us to grasp the meaning of Joy to the World, we must be more in tune with the little child on Christmas morning than with the middle-aged adult who frets about life and all its problems. Perhaps, this is why Jesus says,

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

As a child, it is much easier to experience joy and celebrate joyous occasions. Joy is not difficult for a child, but for adults, it is sometimes hard to obtain.

On the night Jesus was born, an angel appeared to some shepherds and said,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy…” (Luke 2:10)

The birth of Jesus is a joyous message, and it should be celebrated as such. This is what the song Joy to the World is all about. It was written by Isaac Watts in 1719 and is based on Psalm 98.

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

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

At the news of the birth of Christ, all the world should rejoice. All nations and all peoples should celebrate the arrival of the newborn King. People have waited many many years for this moment, and it has finally arrived. All that waiting and longing finally burst forth in an abundance of praise, but it is not just people that should be celebrating, it is all creation. It is the rocks, hills, and plains. It is heaven and nature singing. This isn’t the creation of Isaac Watts. This is what we find in the Bible. This is what Isaac Watts read in Psalm 98. It is what we read in Luke chapter 2. Rejoice, everybody! Rejoice, everything!

When Jesus took on flesh and came to earth 2,000 years ago, he arrived to the sound of rejoicing. Angels, shepherds, and wise men were celebrating the good news of the Messiah’s birth. We are far removed from this moment. Centuries and centuries have passed since that glorious day, and yet our response is supposed to be the same. Christians are to be a people filled with joy because Jesus took on flesh and came to earth. This is expressed in 1 Peter 1:8.

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (1 Pet. 1:8)

Though we have not seen Jesus with our own eyes, we believe in him, we live for him, and we rejoice with a joy that is inexpressible. Is that what people see in you? Peter says this is who we are to be. It is what others are to see in us. We are to be a people known for our joy. We are to be like Scrooge’s nephew who shows up at his uncle’s shop and joyfully invites him to Christmas dinner even though he has likely been rejected year after year after year. The nephew’s joy is much stronger than his uncle’s greed.

In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul commands,

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4)

Rejoice and then rejoice some more. This is to be our life as a Christian.

Joy is not something that can be manufactured. It is not something we can make ourselves feel. Most people want to be joyful, and most people struggle with being joyful, so what are we to do?

We know what abundant joy feels like. We felt it as a child on Christmas morning when we believed everything in the world was as it should be. We now know otherwise. We cannot put toothpaste back in the tube. We cannot unknow what we know now. This would be impossible.

The joy of a child on Christmas morning is somewhat naive. They are able to be overwhelmed with joy because their knowledge is somewhat limited. However, the joy they feel and express is closely related to what we are to feel and express as Christians. The child rejoices because all things are right and he or she is abundantly blessed. We are to rejoice for the same reason. We cannot unknow what we know now, but we don’t have to. Jesus has come to right all wrongs. He has come to bring peace to earth. He offers us the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation. He has promised to return one day so that we might all enjoy a great feast together. In Scripture, this feast is a wedding banquet, but it would not be too far of a stretch to think of it as being like a Christmas banquet. It will be a joyous meal with all the past, present, and future saints. It will be a time with the people we love where all things are right, and we recognize we are richly blessed.

As you prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, pay attention to the joy of the children in the room and remember it’s not just for kids, it’s for all of us who wear the name of Christ.

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