Whenever I am asked about "Christmas songs", the one that always seems to appear in my mind first is the classic hymn, "Joy to the World".
I asked myself this week, "Why? Out of so many choices, why does THAT song top the list?"
One reason, I believe, is because it is so directly speaking of the birth of Jesus. I like a bunch of things about the Christmas season, but the Christian part of me, which I hope is the most defining part of me, especially enjoys the focus on the incarnation of God (the idea that God left Heaven, took on flesh, and dwelt among us as one of us).
Another reason, I believe, stems from a few of the lines from the song. I like the phrase, "let every heart, prepare him room". They journey of making room for Jesus in my heart, and the mystery of how he has (and continues to) moved in and lived there, is the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me, and I want it for everyone. I also like the line, "He rules the world with truth and grace". It's a subject for another time, but there is something very orienting, balancing, boundary-producing, relationship-guiding, and life-producing when I think about Jesus coming, and ruling, in "truth and grace". In a world that often pits these two against each other, I take refuge in the idea that truth is not truth without grace, and grace is not grace without truth. So my whole life is to align my heart, mission, character, and priorities with the balance of grace and truth... just like Jesus.
But I think the real reason that this is the song that jumps to the forefront comes right from the title.
Honestly, I love the concept of joy. Though they are often confused, joy is distinct from "happiness". You can have joy in the midst of things that steal your happiness. Happiness is an experience that is anchored to recent experiences that constantly change. Joy is anchored to truth that is firm, established, and immovable regardless of experiences. Joy is powerful and motivating, and it can remain untouched in the midst of things that easily steal your momentary feelings of happiness. After Jesus was born, and then lived his life and ministry, it was joy that carried him even to the horrors of the cross. (Hebrews 12:2)
Jesus came to give us this joy. After telling of the love of God, he says, "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete". (John 15:12)
There is so much grief in this world, and God wants us to exchange it for Godís joy. Merry Christmas.