One thing about Christmas, it is a season of wonder. Homes and towns and stores go all out to wow us. There is even a television show where homeowners compete for the most extravagant decorations.
But the wonder of Christmas dwarfs the most spectacular show of lights, like a single match is swallowed up in the fire of the sun. Moreover, the display of God’s making is never out of season, something to be boxed up and put away until next year.
The final stanza of “Joy to the World” sets out God’s display.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.
What would that look like if it were exhibited? The substance and indestructibility of truth. The uninhibited, uninterrupted surging power of grace. The sprawling grandeur of righteousness. All illuminated with the spectacle of God’s love.
It would look like what God describes for us throughout the Bible in the giving of His Son, something anticipated in Psalm 98. The psalm begins: “Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The LORD has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God” (Psa. 98:1–3).
These themes are taken up in the song of Mary and in the prophecy of Zechariah recorded in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 1:46-53, 67-79). Both speak of God’s promise to Abraham to be a blessing to the nations, a promise steeped in God’s steadfast, relentless love.
John is a particularly helpful docent of this amazing love that God has put on display for us, describing it in his Gospel account and in his letters. In the Gospel he tells us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
This love is set in stark contrast to the darkness of God’s wrath expressed in perishing. It shines gloriously against the menacing judgment to come. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:17–18).
The love of God in Christ is not merely to be admired or to be marveled at. It is to be embraced by faith. It is a love for the world, Jew and Gentile alike, for all who will believe.
In his first epistle, John again speaks of the incarnation of Jesus in terms of love. “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9–10).
Again, love is set in contrast to wrath. Wrath is the issue involved in propitiation.
Christ’s mission of love is to face the cross where He did not shrink back from taking the cup of wrath from our hand and drinking it to its very dregs, exhausting the wrath of God we deserved. In its place He extends to us the cup of blessing. The perfect righteousness of obedience is credited to us. The gifts of sin's forgiveness and life eternal become ours. He who did not spare His own Son, along with Him graciously gives us all things
When Isaac Watts wrote of joy in the wonders of God’s love, he did not have mere sentiment in mind. He had in mind the covenant-making, covenant-keeping love of God realized in the giving of His Son to be the Savior of sinners, those who deserve only His wrath as covenant-breakers. It is that fountain of joy that makes for a Merry Christmas!
Reflect and respond in prayer to the biblical truths of this stanza of “Joy to the World.”
Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
This Christmas point your friends to the good news of great joy with the gospel booklet, God’s Good News, available as a free PDF download or for purchase as a booklet.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Those marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.