Since hanging out in Presbyterian and repentant dispensational circles I discovered that there was another verse to Joy to the World, which I had always skipped. Still in our hymnal today, three verses are called out and the third is skipped. But this season, as the absence was again brought to mind, I was thinking about it even more deeply.
The hymn was not originally a Christmas carol, it was an adaptation of the second half of Psalm 98. Among his many achievements for the faith, Isaac Watts adapted the Hebrew Psalms in light of the work of Christ. Of course the Psalms were always about Christ, but Watts wanted to make it more explicit. As language and understanding change there will always be an important place for new translations of Scripture. Given the subject matter and the way Watts changed the tense in many of his Psalm adaptations, it became a natural Christmas carol.
I was struck because Watt’s reading of the Psalm includes areas of theology often ignored by the typical Evangelical Christian. But it really is all there in the Psalm.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
We like the part about the heart, but what about the earth? The whole earth receiving her king? We tend to skip over the accomplishments of the cross and instead sit around and wait for a dramatic return. But the work has been done, Christ is king, he has conquered sin and death and now sits at the father’s right hand, he has come. From the Psalm:
“For he has done marvelous things. . .
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations”
The fact that many people don’t believe this, is their problem. Or rather it’s our problem, that is our task as Christians. We are supposed to be Evangelists, to the whole world telling them of the work that has been done. We shouldn’t be sitting around waiting for the trumpet, we should be sounding it, as verse 6 says
“With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord”
But that’s not our only job and our hearts are not the limit of his redemption of the earth, the hymn continues:
Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
Which is right from the Psalm,
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
The whole earth participates in the joyous song. And it’s even more explicit in the third stanza, the forgotten stanza.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
The whole earth is being redeemed, as far as the curse is found. One of the most optimistic and incredible lines of any hymn and we skip over it. Then the hymn ends as the Psalm, Christ is ruling.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
But this inclusion of all the earth, the rocks and hills and animals isn’t just unique to this Psalm. Hasn’t it always seemed odd that when God told Joshua to enter the land, he called for the destruction of all the people and all the animals(Joshua 6:21)? Because the work of God is not just some metaphysical heart thing it affects every area of life and even our surroundings. God didn’t just send Israel in to kill some random people. It was a judgement, for their evil. They had corrupted the entire land and it had to be cleansed, even the trees(Leviticus 19:23). You think it’s a coincidence that a converted harlot saved the two spies? Most women were probably harlots, just like the rampant homosexuality in Sodom. But even then God gave them a chance to repent as the exploits of Israel’s God proceeded Joshua(Joshua 2:10). And only one woman repented. And her unfruitful harlotry was turned into the ultimate fruit, the ultimate child, the Christ, who would be born to Joseph who was descended from her son Boaz(Matthew 1).
What you believe affects more than just your heart, it affects your body, others around you and the physical world. You can see it on individual and national levels. There are a few Christian insurance companies attempting to be more affordable by only including other Christians. Because the immoral activities associated with the world, are higher risk. It’s a fact. From property damaged to sexually transmitted diseases, to regular diseases. People who obey the word of God don’t have to deal with as many problems. On a national level pagan peoples fall into all sorts of problems. Without a morality based on God’s standard basic relationships break down. Everyone is just in it for their own pleasure. If you can’t maintain basic relationships with your own people or the tribes around you, the result is unfettered war and the environmental destruction that always brings. The Middle East used to look like the West Coast. Lebanon used to have massive cedar rain forests like those in Northern California. The Middle East is today a very dark place as the paganism of ISIS sweeps across destroying everything. Sadly the same is also more evident in California as a new paganism called environmentalism has turned once fruitful fields, into dead barren dust.
And just as pagan godless nations destroy, contaminate and pollute, we as Christians do the opposite. Environmentalism isn’t something most Christians want to have much to do with, because it has gone so far off the rails from stewardship of God’s creation to pagan worship. I am always amazed by the need for the West to defend it’s record on these things. It was Christian nations who pioneered the concept of environmentalism. We clean up our messes better than anyone, we are the first people to do so. We set aside national parks, and cultivate forests and animal populations so that they will thrive and multiply. This is what redemption of the whole earth looks like. The whole earth is under a curse, species are constantly dying off from the dinosaurs to the dodo. But the gospel entering hearts is just the beginning of birth pangs (Matthew 24:8). This world before the gospel was a dark, evil place. Paganism was always about death, savage cruel death. There was little concern for human life when it was convenient, much less the lives of other creatures. But the gospel changed all that. God has always been concerned about that. In Deuteronomy he cautions his godly armies to take care of the trees (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). The common practice was to slash and burn everything. But God’s prescription is not destruction but redemption. Even Christ the great gardner took the time to clear out a fruitless fig tree (Mark 11).
Of course our task as Christians is to point people to Christ, but it doesn’t end there. We have let the world take over many of our tasks and turn them into idols. But this shouldn’t dissuade us from taking them back. Our work is to extend “as far as the curse is found” to all of creation. Our faith must be made to work out into every aspect of creation. As to the lamb lying down wit the lion, we could make it happen, literally. Why not? But these things take work and lots of time, generations even. It’s easy to live in a house that is a constant mess while you talk about how great you are on the inside, but that’s just a lie. The truth is that if your heart is really changed it should affect everything, even the trees in your yard, even the trees in your neighbor’s yard. This is the rich world of medieval Christendom, a world that has been sadly forgotten as we emphasize butts in the seats, and large dramatic conversion services. So I urge you to get up off the couch, fire your gardner,your mechanic and especially your kid’s teachers and put some Christian hands on this fallen creation, Christian hands. It won’t be instant, we have let the world take over and forgotten much of what the church taught us. But as Chesterton said, a thing worth doing is worth doing badly. Do do it.
Further Reading: Simply Jesus, N.T. Wrght