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Joy to the World, The Lord is Come

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” Psalm 98:4 ESV 

Isaac Watts was born in 1674 in Southampton England. As a child he loved creating rhymes (and was even reprimanded for it in church). He lived at a time when it was believed that only the Psalms should be sung in solemn services. Outside in the streets people merrily sang carols during the Christmas season, but inside the church the songs were serious and traditional. When he was a teenager, Isaac complained that the Psalms were too stagnant. He thought that people should be singing with joy and passion and that the songs should reflect Christian lives, not the Old Testament before Christ returned. Later in life, he was quoted as saying “To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces fo a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” His father eventually got so tired of his teenage son’s complaining that he challenged young Isaac to write something better. This began a lifetime of hymn writing.

In 1719 he wrote Psalms of David imitated in the language of the New Testament. These hymns were based on the words of David in the Old Testament but included the gospel of the New Testament. Many traditionalists were, not surprisingly, against his new music, and called his songs “whims and flights of fancy,” but on the other hand, many prominent people supported him, such as Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin, Cotton Mather, and John Wesley.

Isaac Watts is considered The godfather of modern hymn writing and many of his songs are still recognizable to us today, such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and “This is the Day that the Lord hath Made.” His most famous Christmas carol is “Joy to the World” based on the joy David sang about in Psalm 98:4 (ESV). “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!” However, his words also reflect the good news that the angels sang to the shepherds the night Jesus was born. “The Lord is come, Let earth receive her king! Let every heart prepare him room and heaven and nature sing.” Even though this song was written in 1719, the message of it is timeless. In fact, it was the most popular hymn of the 20th century (based on how many hymnals it was printed in).

I think the popularity is because the message is so simple yet so profound. The angel in Luke 2:10 (ESV) said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The angels rejoiced and the good news of the birth of Christ was for all people of all time and for the whole world, so I agree with Isaac Watts. We should be singing with joy and passion about the miraculous entrance of our savior on the earth. “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

Sharing your joy in Christ,

Erin Tabor 

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of https://www.freeimages.com/photo/angel-christmas-ornament-1442351

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen

“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’”  Luke 2:10-11 NIV 

During the Christmas season each year, churches like to dig out the old traditional carols and we have fun singing them, but if we’re honest, some of the words are so outdated that we don’t necessarily know what all of them mean. If we look closely though, these old songs have messages that still have pertinent meanings for us today.

For example, when we hear the lyric “God rest you merry, gentlemen” it may sound like an admonishment: “You are being too merry gentlemen, I think you should rest.” This confusion is because the meanings of the words have changed over time (also because we need to be sure to put the comma after ‘merry’ and not before). ‘Rest’ in this context did not mean relax as we recognize it today, but ‘to keep or to remain,’ so ‘God rest you merry’ was a phrase that originally meant something like ‘God keep you in good spirits.’ In fact, long before this song was published in 1760, the phrase was commonly spoken as a greeting (Shakespeare even used it in his play As You Like It in 1599!).

So how can we find meaning from these antiquated words today? After the opening lyric, the song continues: “let nothing you dismay/Remember Christ our savior was born upon this day/ To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/Oh tidings of comfort and joy.” The whole message is conveying that we should not feel dismayed by anything because we remember this day that Jesus was born to save us from our sins, and our Christmas season is to celebrate the joy we can only find in Christ.

If you are feeling overwhelmed this December with the number of Christmas parties to attend, homemade cookies that need to be sent to school, what present to buy for which child, and what relatives need to be seated together at Christmas dinner, then remember what the angel told the shepherds on that miraculous night: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10b-11, NIV). Don’t be stressed by material things, for the savior has come. Spread the good news! What a miracle! Put down that wrapping paper, get the flour out of your hair, and rejoice! I bet your spirits will be raised.

God rest you merry,

Erin Tabor

 

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of  https://www.stockfreeimages.com/4012247/Caroler-Ornaments.html           

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ

 “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ”
Philippians 3:8 NIV

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was sitting imprisoned and in chains, but the loss he was describing in Phil. 3:8 was not the loss of his freedom, but the loss of his self-righteousness. Before Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, he had been a Pharisee who focused on righteousness gained through personal means, such as following laws and performing rituals. According to his description in Philippians, Paul had originally thought he was blameless through these actions, but then he learned that there is no such thing as self-justification. When Paul found Jesus, he realized that he was a sinner and could only be saved through the grace of God. This is what he meant by the loss of everything else to gain Christ. In fact, rubbish in this context meant dung or manure. He gave up his self-righteous past that focused on material, man pleasing pursuits, to turn toward a relationship with Jesus—the only thing that matters. This is why he could sit imprisoned and say that it was his past in the glory of men that was rubbish. He knew that with Christ in his heart, he could find joy in any circumstance.

This last summer I went on a cruise in the Caribbean. At the time, I was also working on a Philippians Bible study, so I decided to find a spot on the boat each day to get some work accomplished. One day I was sitting in a cushy chair at the deck railing, with an umbrella over my head, when I came across this verse. It was such a contrast to read about someone sitting in prison and writing about rubbish as I sat with my feet propped up,overlooking the view of the water. I thought about the boat and everything on it and realized that it too is rubbish compared to Christ. Everything on the cruise— the food, the pool, the entertainment, the marble floors— is all material. Yes, it is relaxing and fun to get away, but anything designed to impress men is meaningless if Jesus isn’t first in my life. A few verses later, Paul explained that “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Phil. 4:12 NIV). Whether in prison or on a cruise ship, if Christ is in my heart, I can find joy in all circumstances, because everything else is rubbish.

In Christ alone,

Erin Tabor

Photo Credit: my own photo