Joy to the world? But there are viruses, fighting, work challenges, illness, and death. Can you really sing “Joy to the World”? When you look at Psalm 98 on which it is based, the answer is, “Yes!”
Sing! Look back at God’s marvelous deeds. The first part of the Psalm looks back to what God had done. “Marvelous things” are not just any actions, but focus on the Exodus and the related miracles that the Lord performed as he led his people through the wilderness into the promised land. He emphasizes that it was not the might or wisdom of his people that delivered them, but his own right hand and holy arm. He has made his salvation known. Salvation is a broad enough term to include, positively, deliverance for his people, and, in contrast, victory over an oppressive enemy. However difficult your present situation, the Lord assures you that he was with you, his covenant people, in the past. He is the unchanging God, and thus you are assured that he is and will be with you.
Sing a new song! When the Lord performs new acts of salvation, his people respond with new songs of praise, Psalm 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5. The new work of salvation has its culmination in the coming of the One whom the angel told Joseph to name Jesus—for he will save his people from their sins. When John sees the Lion-Lamb in heaven, with his saving work accomplished, the Lord is praised with a new song. Notice how the work of delivering his people Israel broadens into a display of his work to the ends of the earth. “There are certain phrases and figures in the Psalter, which are connected with the idea of plan and continuity in the work of God and of its destination to arrive at a final goal. Most characteristic of these, because most Psalm-like, is the phrase ‘a new song.’ occurring five times.” (335–336) “The Psalmists know that the end is not flung upon the world out of the lap of chance, but that it proceeds with stately, unhastened, unretarded step from the council-chamber of God.” (337) “When the Psalmists make eschatology the anchor of salvation, this is not done in a self-centered spirit…. the Psalmist succeeds in forgetting his own woes for the woes of for the hopes of the people as a whole., But it is even more important to notice that he is able to forget them for the overwhelming thought of the glory of Jehovah. The gloria in excelsis which the Psalter sings arise not seldom from a veritable de profundis and, leaving behind the storm-clouds of its own distress, mounts before Jehovah in the serenity of a perfect praise.” (339) (Geerhardus Vos, Eschatology of the Psalter)
Shout! The Lord is King. Israel in the wilderness had no king—for the Lord was their king. As they turned from him to idols, the Book of Judges showed that they needed a king. David, though flawed, was a man after God’s own heart. His rule represented the Lord’s. Other kings failed. Finally God sent the King. It was crucial that the Messiah, as promised, be born of David’s line. You need him to subdue you to himself, and to restrain and conquer his and our enemies, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds you. Remember that Jesus, at the right hand of his Father, is fulfilling his kingly office. Your King is present.
Because he is, shout for joy! This is an exuberant shout of celebration, for the King has come. Luke describes the angels telling the shepherds that the Savior was born in the City of David. Matthew describes the Magi searching for the King. Because your King reigns, shout for joy and praise him. Use your voice, string instruments, and wind instruments. It’s not that these (and only these mentioned) are to be used, but that God’s work is so great that every kind of instrument is to be used to sound his praises. The vocal praises imply that your entire life is to sound praise to God. The celebration of Christ’s birth needs to spill over into a life obedience throughout the year. Your songs of praise today look forward to greater praise.
Rejoice! The Judge is coming. Your Lord has done great things. He is King now. But there is more and better to come. You live in a world still plagued by sin and suffering. The effects of the fall are evident in the pain, temptations, and suffering in your life. You need your Judge/King to return and set things right. His judgment is perfect, marked by justice and equity. The New Testament no only celebrates the first coming of the King, it keeps pointing you to his coming again.
Join the rejoicing of creation. The entire earth is summoned to join in the song of praise. Not only the people, but the entire creation sounds God’s praise. That includes the sea, and everything in it, the world, and its rivers and mountains. Yes, the summons of creation to praise implies the call to mankind universally to praise God. But it also recognizes that the reign of God is not complete until the sin-cursed creation is restored through the work of Christ. Romans 8 talks about the creation groaning for something better, the full redemption of God’s people, their final resurrection and the restoration of creation. “’All thy works shall praise thy Name, in earth and sky and sea.’ To sing that line from this well-known hymn is to confess that the present praise of creation is not merely pre-eschatological, destined in the end for the silence of eternal extinction. The present creation awaits the eschatological voice it will receive when, free at last from its ‘bondage to corruption,’ it will ‘obtain the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.’ With this obtaining together with the sons of God, creation’s praise— beyond all sighing and in a manner beyond present comprehension— will heighten their enjoyment of that freedom and glory in the new creation of God. (Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., “What ‘Symphony of Sighs’” in Redeeming the Life of the Mind, pp. 160–161).
Keep that note of universal praise as you worship the Lord and live to his glory. What was future for the psalmist is a reality for you. The Lord has come, he is here, and he is coming again. Rejoice!
Joy to the world! That’s appropriate to sing this month. But it also characterizes the entire life of the church of Jesus Christ.