DECEMBER 22, 2020
Immanuel, God with us. Joy to the World!
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Have you ever thought of that phrase? What kind of grammar is that? It sounds so unnatural and just plain weird! A quick search on the internet will show you that it was simply standard grammar when Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics back in 1719. There are some versions I have heard that have changed the words to the more modern “The Lord has come,” but I want to protest and suggest that we keep it as originally written for one simple reason …it sounds theologically correct! Allow me to explain, and I think you will understand and really appreciate the deeper understanding of Christmas this small word “is” can provide.
When Jesus was born to Mary, many people know that it was for our salvation…that eventually this sweet baby would be crucified and die, but would then rise again victorious over death and providing a way for creation to be redeemed and renewed. But there are added benefits to Jesus’ becoming a man (as if salvation and eternal life were not enough). One of the biggest additional benefits is hinted at in the name that the prophet Isaiah says Jesus will be known as; “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) Matthew helps us understand that this means “God with us.” But God wouldn’t just be with us for a few short decades in first-century Judea; he would be with us always, “to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
Matthew bookends his Gospel with the name Immanuel and the phrase “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This is significant. This is what makes Christmas an inaugural event and one that has been on repeat ever since. And I do not just mean every December 25th! Christ came once so that he could always be with us, EVERY SINGLE DAY. Christmas is an eternal event with eternal ramifications that just happened to take place in time. Every day, Jesus comes to us in special ways; in the poor and the sick, in the widow and the orphan, in the pastor and the parishioner, in the sinner and the saint, and most powerfully in the Holy Spirit. Jesus came to live among us so that he could die for us, that we might die to ourselves and, by the power of his grace and the Holy Spirit, live for him and with him. It is an amazing and never-ending gift, but gifts are given to be received. Have you received it?
That brings us back to Isaac Watts’ wonderful Christmas hymn. As we go through this advent season, let us not forget that Christmas does not end on December 25th, or January 5th. Let us remember that we can unashamedly sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” meaning that the Lord did come, he will come, and he is always coming to us in each and every moment. Let us use this advent season as an opportunity to see the Christmas in our lives every day of the year and to receive the gift of Immanuel, God with us.