A Christmas Song that Doesn’t Belong … But Does

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There is a well-known song from my childhood from the TV show “Sesame Street,” in which 4-objects would be shown on the screen—3 being the same and 1 being different, like 3 shoes and a hat. The narrator would then sing …

“One of these things is not like the other. One of these doesn’t belong. Can you tell which thing is not like the other, By the time I finish this song.”

As a 3-6 year old, this was very exciting, and I always guessed perfectly before the end of the song (my mom always said I was a smart child, haha 🙂 ).

Well, it’s Christmastime again, and while we are being all festive with decorations and creating delicious foods and singing all manner of Christmas songs in multiple genres, I started thinking: we sing a song every year that is not a Christmas song. It’s doesn’t belong. It is one of my favorites and probably many of yours, but it still doesn’t belong. And what even stranger is that this song has been sung during the Christmas season since it was written 250yrs ago. But, the words have nothing to do with Christmas. It just doesn’t belong!!

AND YET: the more I consider this particular song’s content, and the more I read my Bible and grow in my walk with Christ, I think it does belong.

Which famous Christmas song do I speak of? “Joy to the World.”

“Joy to the World” is a song written by the famous hymn writer Isaac Watts (1674-1748). He wrote many hymns (750 to be exact), some which we still sing today (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” and “Come Ye that Love the Lord”). His goal in writing songs was to take the truths found in the book of Psalms and arrange them into hymns.

As for “Joy to the World,” Watts wrote: “In [this hymn] I have formed out of the 98th Psalm, I have fully exprest what I esteem to be the first and chief sense of the Holy Scriptures.”

What is Psalm 98 about? Read for yourself:

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
    to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity. (ESV)

I ask: what does this Psalm have to do with Jesus coming in a humble manger? Nothing. Does this Psalm speak of Jesus’ first coming in humility? No. This text speaks nothing of Magi, shepherds out in the field, angel choirs, nor a virgin birth. This is not a Christmas Psalm, and neither is “Joy to the World.”

Psalm 98 is about the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. This Psalm proclaims the excitement and joy that will come upon the whole world—even inanimate creation—when the God-man, Jesus Christ, comes to reign as king on this earth. For those with faith in Him, it will be salvation from the pollution and presence of sin (vv. 1-3). For all creation, it will be salvation from the curse of sin (vv. 4-8). His blessings will flow as far as the curse is found, and He will make the nations prove the glories of His righteousness when He comes to be their Judge (v. 9). This is His great coming! To be King and Judge of the whole earth (cf. Pss 93-100; Jn 5:27; Acts 17:31),

“Ok, I get it! ‘Joy to the World’ is not a Christmas song. But what now? Do we stop singing it at Christmastime?”

As I said before, even though the lyrics do not match Christmastime that is focused on Baby in the manger, it is still appropriate to sing it and love it during Christmas, because the first coming of Jesus in the manger and the Second Coming of Jesus to be King and Judge are for the same reason: To give salvation!

Remember what the angel said to Joseph: “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matt 1:21). Well, Jesus accomplished half that work with His death and resurrection. Those with their faith in

Christ’s finish work have been saved from the penalty and power of sin. They will not go to Hell for eternity under God’s wrath and sin is no longer their master. But that is not the end of God’s provided salvation. Final and full salvation is when we are saved from the pollution and the presence of sin; when we and all

creation are glorified (see Rom 8:20-22, 29-30) and sin no longer has a place in our lives (Rev 21-22). And this final goal of our salvation will be known only at Jesus’ Second Coming, and it will produce in us “a new song” (Ps 98:1) and we will sing forever of “the wonders of His love.”

So, go ahead and love “Joy to the World”! Sing it with gusto, Christian, knowing that it is a song of salvation—a salvation song that began on Christmas night in a manger 2,000 years ago.

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