Are Christmas tunes still rambling around in your head? Even though the holiday is over I find myself humming snatches of my favorite songs. It’s a shame we only sing these songs once a year, what a waste of great music! There is one song, however, that’s perfectly okay to sing any time of the year and that’s because it really isn’t a Christmas song. No one seems to know that though because as of the late 1900s, it was the most-published “Christmas” song in North America. Performers such as Andy Williams, The Supremes, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Patty Loveless, Clay Aiken and many others have all included it in their Christmas albums or CDs.
The Christmas decorations and CDs have been put away for another year and now you hear that the iconic Christmas song “Joy to The World” is not even a Christmas song? But don’t take my word for it; the hymn writer himself declared that this was a song in celebration of Jesus’ Second Advent, glorifying Christ’s triumphant return at the end of the age. The song was first published in 1719 and Isaac Watts based the words on Psalm 98 where the psalmist praises God as the Deliverer (v. 1-3), as King (v. 4-6) and as Ruler (v. 7-9).
As if confusion over which hymns should be considered Christmas carols isn’t enough, now what is this about understanding Jesus’ First Advent (Coming) and His Second? Mary and Joseph were told of both; Joseph was told of the First and Mary learned of the Second. The angel told Joseph to take Mary as his wife because “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit…and you shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21). Joseph would have known that the only way to remove sin is by blood sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11) and he no doubt was familiar with Isaiah’s prophecy, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6). The first time Jesus came, he came quietly as the Lamb of God, our sacrifice.
The angel Gabriel also visited Mary before Jesus’ birth and explained, “You will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). When Jesus comes at His Second Advent, He will come as the Lion of Judah with great majesty and power (Zechariah 14 and especially v. 9: “And the Lord will be king over all the earth…”).
There is no need to scratch the song “Joy to The World” from our list of Christmas favorites. There was great joy at Christ’s First Advent when Jesus was born. The angel told the shepherds “behold I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all the people.” Yes, we should rejoice with the shepherds, but we also need to remember and anticipate Jesus’ return at His Second Advent. What a glorious day that will be when He comes as King of kings and Lord of lords!