Snowy Christmas Trees

Joy to the World: A Christmas Reflection on Making Room, Being Made Right, and Ruled by Jesus

Inspired by a message given during chapel by Dr. Doug Graham, Interim President

As we gather on this festive occasion, just before Christmas, let’s delve into the timeless message of joy. Joy, a theme that has echoed through the halls of our chapel all semester, resonating from the book of Philippians. Today, however, we shift our focus to another source of joy—one that transcends seasons and circumstances. A joy not confined to a jail or downturn but rooted in the everlasting message of Christmas.

We’ve explored joy in jail and joy in the downturn, but what about joy in Jesus? Yes, the answer is always Jesus. As we embark on this Christmas journey, let’s turn to a hymnal, figuratively speaking, and unravel the story behind one of the most beloved Christmas songs—Joy to the World.

Our narrative unfolds with two musical icons from different times and places—Isaac Watts and Lowell Mason. Isaac Watts, born in 1674, a radical spirit, inherited from his fiery father, revolutionized Christian music. Discontent with the uninspiring tunes of his day, he wrote over 600 hymns, challenging traditional norms. However, many were rejected for not adhering to the established translation of scriptures.

Fast forward to Lowell Mason, born in 1788, a banker with a passion for music. Though rejected initially, his compositions gained popularity, eventually leading him to become one of Boston’s renowned music publishers. Mason’s journey intersects with Watts when he stumbles upon Watts’s Psalm-inspired poem. This meeting gives birth to the musical score “Antioch,” later known as “Joy to the World.”

The fascinating part? No one knows how this song became associated with Christmas. It wasn’t written for a specific season but draws its inspiration from Psalm 98, celebrating the joy of the Lord year-round. Isn’t that the essence of Christmas? A truth to be celebrated not just for a month but throughout the year.

So, how do we capture this eternal joy, this joy in Jesus? Let’s distill three reflections from the lines of “Joy to the World.”

1. Making Room for Jesus

The first step in capturing joy every day, all year long, is making room for Jesus. Isaac Watts, dissatisfied with the church’s music, was challenged by his father to write better music. In response, he unleashed a burst of creativity, writing over 600 hymns. Joy became a consumption issue—our lives reflecting what we allow to occupy them.

Psalm 98:4 urges us to shout for joy to the Lord, bursting into jubilant song with music. This joy, the kind that emanates from inside, is born when we make room for Jesus. Just as the jailer in Acts 16 found joy by accepting Jesus into his life, we too can find joy by making room for Him.

2. Being Made Right with Jesus

The second reflection unveils joy as a curse issue. “No more let sins and sorrows grow,” declares the song. The curse of sin affects us all. Whether in addiction or wrestling with temptation, the joy we seek is hindered by the weight of sin.

Being made right with Jesus involves acknowledging our sins, confessing, and seeking forgiveness. James reminds us of the consequences of sin, leading to death. Joy flourishes when we continuously reconnect with Jesus through confession and repentance, allowing His blessings to flow.

3. Being Ruled by Jesus

The final reflection defines joy as a control issue. “He rules the world with truth and grace,” proclaims the song. The level of joy in our lives is directly connected to who is in control. If we want enduring joy, we must allow Jesus to rule our lives.

Our lives should be a constant awareness of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, guiding us. Joy is not about using Jesus to be happy but about allowing Him to take center stage in the most important room of our lives. When we make room, are made right, and allow Jesus to rule, we experience a joy beyond circumstance.

As we stand together to sing “Joy to the World,” let the lyrics resonate with these reflections. Let it be a reflective song, a reminder that joy in Jesus transcends the boundaries of time and season.

In closing, let’s celebrate Christmas not as a fleeting moment but as a perpetual truth. Let the joy of Jesus echo in our hearts not only during December but throughout the year. May we make room, be made right, and be ruled by Jesus, experiencing the fullness of joy that He brings.

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