Repeat the Sounding Joy
I remember the first time I heard “Joy to the World.” I don’t mean the very first time. After all, it’s such a popular Christmas carol it’s hard to have not heard some recording of it if you live in the Western world. And I grew up in church, so I went from garbling the words as a young child to singing them accurately but mindlessly as a young adult. What I’m referring to is the first time I really paid attention to the words, to the reasons for joy that the hymn celebrates.
When Issac Watts penned these lyrics in the early 18th century, it was not his intention to write a Christmas hymn. He wrote a poem entitled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom,” based on Psalm 98, as a part of larger collection of poems in which he sought to express the sense of the Psalms in light of the person and work of Jesus. The specific line that arrested my attention was “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” This glorious claim, especially when acknowledged in conjunction with the Incarnation, now often leads my heart to marvel and rejoice. The extent of what God was doing, what God has done through sending his Son to be born in the flesh is truly breathtaking.
Watts did subsequent generations of believers a great service by connecting Genesis 3 with Psalm 98, attaching the first embryonic promise of deliverance to the effect of the arrival of the King. And as we carol and contemplate, we’re led to remember that Jesus’ birth was both incredible condescension and improbable conquest.
Nothing could seem more limited and local than a child being born to a peasant woman in a tiny village in Palestine. It takes eyes of faith to picture Jesus as a baby, lying in a manger, weak and dependent, and see a conquering King who came to eradicate the effects of the curse. When Simeon held that child, led by the Holy Spirit, he exclaimed,
"...my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel." (Luke 2:30–32)
The blessings of salvation would come to all peoples through the birth of Jesus. While Watt’s almost surely had the consummated joy of Jesus’ second coming in mind as he wrote, we’d do ourselves a disservice to miss the significance and joy of the incarnation of the Son of God. The Lord has come. The Savior reigns.
Jesus came and conquered sin and death through his voluntary death on a cross. And through the gospel, his blessings have been flowing to all peoples, as his disciples throughout the ages have sought to “repeat the sounding joy” to every tribe and nation and language. The main way we together in Sovereign Grace seek to repeat that sounding joy is through church planting. We plant churches to play our part in widening the spread of the gospel and deepening the effect of its transforming blessings in our lives and the lives of our neighbors. And it’s one of the reasons that I am grateful to be a part of this family of churches.
As we celebrate this season, may we remember the blessings of gospel partnership that we share, and renew our resolve to spread the joy of salvation as God gives us opportunity individually and collectively.
Joel Bain is a church planting resident at Risen Hope Church (Drexel Hill, PA). Along with his wife, Samora, and their three children, Joel is preparing to lead a team to plant a church in Kingston, Jamaica. Look here to find out more about their mission.