Christmas Hymns to Focus Our Hearts

David PowlisonBy David Powlison5 Minutes

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room, and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing

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, far as, far as the curse is found.

Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World”

In the wonderful Christmas hymn “Joy to the World,” Isaac Watts reminds us in the first line that, “the Lord is come.” That’s an odd tense. It has a present progressive, present perfect sense that basically means the Lord came and he’s still here. He’s still at work. So this is a great song for any time of the year. It is about the glory and mercy of Jesus Christ. It puts in perspective our twofold struggle with our sins and our sufferings. Christ, our King, comes to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found.

Obviously, we live in the in-between period, where curses can still be found, but this hymn is absolutely filled with this joyous awareness of where it’s all going. That perspective is key in helping us see past our tunnel vision that introspects in on our hurts and hardships and sins. All three of those have a tendency to make us turn in on ourselves. “Joy to the World” turns us out of ourselves. The Savior reigns, the Lord is come, he’s the King of the whole Earth. The final stanza is just full of the love of God. The dominant note throughout is a call to living faith, a call to joy, a call to worship, a call to gladness.

It’s a great hymn to encourage us to not get stuck in tunnel vision about ourselves and our world.

“O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that
mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice!
Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” 9th-century Latin hymn

The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is lasting. Its origins go back some 1500 years. Believers have been singing this for a long time! And we still sing it today and sing it appropriately at Christmas. It stays fresh. Why?

We are asking God to come in person. This cry gives voice to our greatest need. We need the Emmanuel whom Isaiah promises (7:14). Left to ourselves we die—captives, sorrowing, alone, refugees. But God’s presence with us will bring life. So we call each other to join in rejoicing. He promises to come to his people.

Each of the stanzas embodies this same basic structure. We call on one of the characteristics of the Messiah, as Isaiah portrays him. We express some aspect of our human struggle. We ask the Lord to intervene. We rejoice. We promise each other that he will come. It is a beautiful and significant pattern.

Emmanuel embodies the Spirit of wisdom and understanding—Isaiah 11:2–3. We need him to guide us in the way. Emmanuel is the dawning sun—Isaiah 9:2. We need the Light of the World to drive away all that is dark. Emmanuel is the key who opens the door of life and shuts the door of death—Isaiah 22:22. We need that one door to open wide. Emmanuel is the Lord himself, reigning, speaking, and saving—Isaiah 33:22. We need his authority, power, words, and presence.

We’ve asked the Lord Jesus to come. Now we rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, rejoice—because he’s going to do it. Emmanuel is going to come as he promised.

Excerpted from Take Heart: Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith by David Powlison ©2022 by Nancy Powlison. Used by permission of New Growth Press.