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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           

Joy Bombs

“In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11, ESV

If there was ever a need for joy in our world, it’s now. But can we really expect anything more than the resonant discord and blatant disregard for humanity that runs rampant in our streets and across our airwaves? It’s true the world with its plentiful array of extravagant resources can bring moments of happiness, but lasting joy—never.

The culpability for our lack of contentment doesn’t lie at the feet of fallen humanity. Can darkness bring forth light? The lack of contagious joy in our world rests at the heart’s door of Christ followers who fall far short of being the conduits of joy we’re purposed to be. If believers adopt the despondent mindset of fallen humanity, what hope do we have for joy to permeate our society?

Christians are called to be lights in the darkness, to exhibit joy in the midst of mundaneness and sorrow. A believer’s heart holds the one necessary ingredient for joy—the love of Christ. Joy issues from an overflow of that love. Galatians 5:22 mentions the attributes of a life filled with the fruit of the Spirit. Love and joy top the list. One does not come without the other, and joy never precedes love.

Earlier this year our women’s Bible study group enjoyed Margaret Feinberg’s study, Fight Back with Joy. We were encouraged to rate our level of joy on a scale of 1-10. It was a sobering assignment and hard to be honest, but God already knew … so why not. An honest assessment was necessary in order to lay hold of a deeper, more abundant joy.

Because true joy is rooted in our sense of God’s fierce love for us, we were challenged to find joy in the commonplace. To look for “joy bombs” that God drops into the ordinariness of our day—a butterfly, that morning cup of coffee, the hug of a loved one, rain pelting the window, flowers dancing in the breeze. We found joy bombs everywhere. We’re still counting.

How about you? On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your level of joy? I challenge you to experience a deep, contagious joy by looking for joy bombs throughout your day. Then to double the pleasure—pay it forward. Be a source of God’s love and drop joy into the life of another.

It’s contagious.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Starr