Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. . . On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.
Revelation 19:11-13, 16
What is your favorite Christmas carol? I admit I have many favorites, but high on that list is “Joy to the World.” I love that the simple lyrics of this hymn capture perfectly what the season of Advent is all about. For though we often think of Advent as a time of looking back to the birth of our Savior, it is also, as the song expresses, a time of looking ahead to the future redemption of a world now held captive by the curse of sin.
As I sing this hymn — or more often out of respect for those around me, as I listen — I feel a sense of connection to my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the ages. I imagine the wonder and joy felt by the shepherds as they witnessed the angelic announcement of the Messiah’s birth so many years ago. I also feel a surge of anticipation, envisioning the future jubilation for those who are still awake to behold the victorious return of the King.
In the first stanza of the carol I seem to hear an echo of the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds that they would find a Savior born in the city of David who was “Christ Kurious” as it was put in Greek; a babe who was both the long-awaited Messiah and the supreme authority. In short, the shepherds were told they would find a newborn in Bethlehem who was the future Deliverer King. What elation must those men have felt as they went to see for themselves this newborn King?
In the hymn, too, there is also a glimpse of that future time when the Lord will come again in victory as King of kings and Lord of lords — that moment when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess His sovereignty.
Here is where I find the only blot of disquiet in my inner revelry, this reminder that someday all will acknowledge Him. On one hand, I yearn to witness that awesome moment when the Lord claims His own and takes the nations in hand, bringing an end to all that is horrid and hopeless. On the other hand, my heart aches for those to whom this event will be a wretched one and full of terror. C. S. Lewis frames my dilemma well in his book, Mere Christianity:
“When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else – something it never entered your head to conceive – comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”
So my dears, I pray that you have already chosen to cast your lot in with the Messiah. I pray that you, too, will be filled with the joy of the first Advent and will be able to heartily embrace the unspeakable joy of the Advent to come.
**For further study, look up the lyrics to Joy to the World here, and look for hints of both Advents within it. As a springboard you can check out Romans 8:19-23, Psalm 96:8-13, Psalm 98:6-9, Luke 19:40, Revelation 7:15-17, and Revelation 21:1-5. What other verses does the hymn bring to mind? **