Joy to the World
Rev. Randy Quinn
seen the plot played out in a variety of settings. I'm sure you have
too. We see it in Movies. We see it in Books. We see it in Television
Shows. What we see is a simple storyline that includes a sense of
longing that is fulfilled.
There have been parents
longing to be reunited with children. Sometimes the children have run
away; sometimes they have been taken away.
There have been spouses
longing for the return of their loved ones. Sometimes their spouse has
been captured physically; sometimes their emotional attention has been
There have been towns and
communities and businesses longing for a sense of vibrancy and
vitality. Sometimes there had been vitality in the past; sometimes it
had only been dreamed about and never existed before.
There have also been
children longing for a white Christmas and there have been adults
longing for peace at Christmas.
You can probably name as many or more
examples than I can. The human story is filled with longing and
yearning and artists have been capturing that yearning in a variety of
media for generations.
On the way home from San Francisco last
night, I sat with two different people, each of whom was yearning for
something, proving to me once again that yearnings are a part of the
One was a college student on her way
home for Christmas. She was longing for the warmth and love of home.
The other was a retired physicist who
was on his way to a committee meeting of a national association. His
yearning was more subtle the young woman's. His was a yearning and a
thirst of knowledge that was a part of his work. He was yearning for
the fulfillment of his dreams that his work as a physicist would be used
in helpful and meaningful ways.
When our longings are fulfilled, there
is a sense of joy that cannot be described in words. It's overwhelming.
Mary and Elizabeth both experience that
kind of joy. Elizabeth, as you probably remember, had been longing for
In a society where
children were signs of God's blessing, Elizabeth was barren.
In a society where
children were the best form of security in old age, Elizabeth was
anything but young and had no children to whom she could turn for
She may not have doubted God's blessing
in her life, but her friends and neighbors had often whispered about it
and she knew it. She longed to have a child, to know God's blessings,
and for her neighbors to know she had been blest.
Now, finally, in her old age, her
longing was fulfilled. And she is exuberant.
Mary, on the other hand, seems to be
longing for God to address society's ills. She is looking for God to
deliver her people from poverty and oppression. She is longing for God
to overcome the evil of the world. She is longing for God to fulfill
the promises of old.
Elizabeth seems to be concerned with her
personal joy; Mary is looking toward a joy that fills the whole world.
Certainly, each has some sense of both.
Elizabeth is also concerned about the joy that her son will bring by
preparing the way for Christ and Mary has experienced joy in knowing
that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But the primary
source of joy for Elizabeth comes from the fulfillment of personal
longings while the primary source of joy for Mary comes from the
fulfillment of corporate longings.
That becomes clear when Elizabeth meets
Mary. Elizabeth realizes that something wonderful is happening. Even
the baby in her womb leaps for joy. But she seems to misunderstand the
source of joy for Mary.
She looks at Mary and pronounces her
blessed as if it was a personal celebration.
Mary knows the truth. The joyful news
isn't for Mary alone. It's for the whole world. The good news is for
every living creature. And so she sings a song that hearkens to the
song of Hannah, a song that celebrates the work of God, a song that
proclaims the salvation God brings, a song about the fulfillment of
"Joy to the world!" she says.
I don't know if you have been following
the story or not, but there is a celebration going on in Japan. It
began last month with the birth of a baby. After eight years of
marriage, the crown prince and princess of the world's oldest genetic
dynasty are now proud parents of a baby girl. She is the emperor's
There is no doubt that her birth is
bringing joy to her mother and father.
And for the first week or so, the
celebrations were family celebrations.
But eventually the festivities turned to
the larger community. It isn't just the members of the royal household
who are happy; it's a whole nation. Her birth is bringing joy to her
I confess that I haven't been following
the story very closely or I would be able to tell you both the names of
the parents and the baby. But I know my first exposure to the story was
in an article this summer about the controversy over the royal
pregnancy; a controversy that ironically served as a prelude to the
controversy her birth has now brought.
You see, Japanese tradition does not
allow for a female heir to the throne, but there are some who are
wanting to change society's rules.
As I remember the stories from earlier
this summer, the baby's mother is well educated and was well respected
for her business sense. She was a hero among many young women because
she was proving that Japanese women don't need to remain silent and
invisible. But when she became pregnant, she gave up her prominent role
and took the traditional place of a mother in waiting. And as near as I
can tell, she is remaining silent in the current controversy as well.
Her actions remind me of Mary's response
In essence they both say, "This isn't
about me. It's about the baby. I'm not the center of attention here,
the baby is." Mary adds the sense that it's not her story as much as it
is God's story that is being revealed at Christmas.
It's about the joy that God brings to
Yearnings have been fulfilled. In Japan
there has been a yearning for an heir to the throne. There is also a
yearning for equality between men and women in society. For Mary it's a
yearning for an heir to David's throne and a yearning for God to be
As a young child in the late 17th
Century, Isaac Watts yearned for better music in church. When he was 18
years old, he reportedly complained to his father about the hymns they
sang in church.
His father's advice was simple: "If you
don't like the hymns we sing, then write a better one!"
And so he did. And he kept on writing
them. For the next 222 Sundays he wrote a new hymn each week. By the
end of his life, he had written over 600 hymns! Our hymnal only
includes a dozen of them. But you probably know them all.
He wrote "O God, Our Help in Ages Past"
and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." His name is also found on the
hymn "Come, We That Love the Lord."
His work as a pastor is hardly
remembered. The fulfillment of his yearnings, however, have both
inspired and brought joy to generations of Christians.
In 1719, Watts published a book of hymns
inspired by the Psalms. Among his paraphrases of the Psalms in that
collection is probably his best-known hymn, a hymn inspired by Psalm 98
that is better known as the Christmas Carol, "Joy to the World".
When we sing it in a few minutes, I hope
you'll listen for the joy that he speaks about, the joy that comes from
God's fulfillment of all our longings, the joy that makes us smile on
the inside, but most importantly the joy that God brings to the whole of
creation, not just to individuals.