Joy for the World!

By Bob Hiller

There is a strange and almost unnoticed verse in the beginning of Mark (1:13) I have grown to take great delight in. After Jesus is in the wilderness, overcoming the temptation from the devil, it says, “And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him.” Now, what in the world does that have to do with anything? Jesus sitting with the wild animals? I mean, I get the angels ministering to Him, but what’s with the animals? What does Jesus have to do with them? What do they have to do with Jesus?

Well, I think we might be able to get at this question with the ever-popular Christmas hymn: Joy to the World! I remember some years back reading that some folks felt this was a theologically weak hymn. That may be true, unless you read it, ya’ know, theologically and in light of the Scriptures. Then it really has some meat on it! This is an all-time favorite Christmas hymn. Though, incidentally, it wasn’t written by Isaac Watts to be a Christmas hymn. It is a poem based on Psalm 98, in which all of creation is entreated to sing for joy to God:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody! With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

All of creation sings, claps, and makes a joyful noise to God, who comes to judge the earth with righteousness and equity. So, we sing joy to the world!

Now, I imagine this has become a Christmas hymn because of the opening line, “The Lord has come.” And His coming in the flesh, His incarnation, is what we celebrate at Christmas. And usually we rejoice in His coming because it means our salvation. He has become a man to save mankind from the sinful bondage in which we have sold ourselves. But what is more, in the setting free of mankind from the bondage to sin, all of creation will rejoice and benefit! Joy to the WORLD, the Lord is come! Let EARTH receive her king.

One of the most theologically profound lines we’ll sing all season is found in verse three. “No more let sin and sorrow grow. Nor thorns infest the ground. HE comes to make His blessings known, far as the curse is found.” This harkens back to Genesis, in which we read that Adam, in disobeying God, subjected the entire creation to the curse of sin. Before sin, Adam and Eve had charge over all of creation. They tended to it and cared for it, and in return, it supplied all of their needs. There was perfect harmony between man and beast. Everything was good.

But when Adam and Eve decided to use the creation for their own selfish ends, the creation was cursed. That is, it became a burden for Adam to care for it. In turn, it groaned in suffering.

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Now, creation longs for something new. The entire creation is longing for restoration and resurrection.

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

All of creation, even the animals, longs for a Savior—a new Adam to show up and make all things right again, like they were before sin. That is why we see Jesus sitting with the animals in the desert after defeating Satan’s temptations. Whereas Adam failed in the garden and gave into the temptations, subjecting the whole creation to suffering and imposing fear and enmity between man and beast, now, in the coming of this second Adam, since Jesus, the Lord has come, earth has received her king. And there, in Jesus, we see glimpses of the resurrection, when there will once again be peace in all of creation. He’s come to make his blessings known, far as the curse is found!

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What this means is that Jesus, in coming to earth and putting on creation in His incarnation, had begun the work of restoring this place to one of joy. He brings joy to the world. The coming of Christ that we see here in Mark is like that scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Remember that book? The magical land of Narnia is cursed by a witch so that it is always winter and never Christmas. But there is a rumor that a savior of sorts, a great lion named Aslan, is on the move. And when he comes, he will put an end to this eternal winter. Well, there is this great scene where some children, the Pevensies, who have been transported to Narnia from our world, begin to see the snow melting around them. One day they meet Father Christmas as they are travelling through Narnia. When Father Christmas comes, they realize the witch’s days are numbered, the curse is being lifted, and Aslan is on the move!

The reason we sing Joy to the World at Christmas is because, in putting on flesh and entering into creation, Jesus is dealing a terrible blow to Satan and the reign of sin. He’s come to undo the curse to which we’ve subjected ourselves and all of creation. He’s come to make His blessings known far as the curse is found! No more let sin and sorrow grow! Nor thorns infest the ground! Perhaps this is why Mary confuses Jesus for the gardener after the resurrection. He’s pulling weeds out of the garden and restoring the creation. Even if he wasn’t doing that, He certainly has lifted the curse by putting on flesh and rising from the his defeated foe: death. So, joy to the world, indeed! The Lord has come, and the world joyfully receives Him as He makes this place a beautiful and good place once again. He’s doing it for you, for me, and hey, even for the animals! Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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