OK, I know. It is weird to be reading “the Christmas story” in March. Wise men and shepherds and stars are for December right? We come to associate these stories with one month of the year, often times ignoring them for the other 11 months. Perhaps, though, there is a message in these stories that goes beyond Christmas. It wouldn’t be the only sound of Christmas that was never intended just for the holiday.
In the early 18th century, a rabble-rousing English cleric by the name of Isaac Watts was reading Psalm 98 and found himself inspired by verses 4-9.
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
Watts felt inspired by these verses, and he wrote out a poem he entitled “Joy to the World”. He set the poem to music and included it in a hymnal he published. However, the British church still had not widely accepted the use of hymns other than actual psalms in worship, so Watts’ hymn went unused. In 1839, an organist by the name of Lowell Mason found Watts’ words and connected them with a tune that he had written himself, the tune that most of us now sing Watts’ words to every December.
Here’s the thing: neither Watts nor Mason ever intended for “Joy to the World” to be a Christmas carol. It was not inspired by the gospels but by a Psalm whose focus was not a day of birth but a day of judgement. Yet, somehow, this song has come to be associated with Christmas, even though the lyrics themselves make no mention of the nativity story.
I have a peer who has a constant crusade going to get the Christian church to sing “Joy to the World” throughout the year, not just at Christmas. His point: we rejoice all through the year that the Lord has come, that He rules the world, that sin no longer has dominion. Why shouldn’t we sing of our eternal joy all year long?
Maybe that is too drastic a step for you yet. But maybe we can reflect on the fact that Luke 2 has a message for us beyond just Christmas day. Christ has come to bring peace on earth and good will toward all mankind. Christ has come to make our joy complete. Something tells me that is a message that speaks as loudly on March 1 as it does December 25.