As Christmas Eve arrives we are reminded of the historic Christian prayer prayed by so many Christians through two millennia of Christian experience and bathed in Christian hope, “Even so Lord, come quickly.” But of course we can only utter that urgent prayer because the Lord did come and that’s why the truth of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ remains the only source for our hope. For this reason alone, Christians looking even at the devastating headlines of our days are not destroyed, we do not surrender to paranoia or to despair because God is on his throne and the Lord is coming. The hope for our salvation is exactly what we celebrate at Christmas when we celebrate the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We need to be reminded at Christmas of the fact that that celebration of incarnation is inherently eschatological. As Christmas Eve arrives, let’s remember one of those most famous and cherished Christmas hymns, “Joy to the World,” published first in 1719 and written by that great hymn writer, Isaac Watts. But even as it is so often sung at Christmas time and even as millions of Christians sing it as a Christmas carol, declaring the truth that the Lord has come in Bethlehem -- that wasn’t what the hymn was about when it was written and that’s not what its words were originally intended to convey. Isaac Watts’ hymn, which begins with those famous words, “Joy to the world the Lord is come, let Earth receive her King, let every heart prepare him room, let Heaven and nature Sing,” was written about the Lord’s second coming – not about his incarnation, not about his birth in Bethlehem.
Watts led in the development of hymns in the English tradition, drawing many of his hymn texts directly from the Psalms. "Joy to the World" is based upon Psalm 98, which declares creation's joy when the Lord comes to rule and to judge. When we sing "Joy to the World the Lord is Come," it applies when we talk about Bethlehem and when we rejoice in the gift of the infant Christ. But the song also reminds us that Christmas isn’t over; the promises of Christmas are not yet fulfilled.
Think about verse three of that hymn, “Joy to the World,” in which we read,
“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, far as the curse is found.”
The reversal of the curse is promised in the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his atoning work. Implicit in this third verse is the promise of the new creation. We live in light of that promise, even as we look back to Bethlehem as we celebrate Christmas.
The final verse of the hymn as it is sung now resounds with eschatological hope: "He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders, of His love."
Those words resound with final, ultimate, eschatological victory. The babe born in Bethlehem is the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. He is also the king who will rule on David's throne, the heavenly victor who defeats sin and death, and the one who will rule the nations with truth and grace. That is what we pray to see and that is what we rightly sing at Christmas.
The promise was seen announced by angels to shepherds near Bethlehem, but the realization of that promise in fulness is what we pray for when we pray, “even so Lord, come quickly.”
This essay is based on devotional thoughts shared at the conclusion of the December 19, 2014 edition of The Briefing. http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/12/19/the-briefing-12-19-14/