Joy to the World — (2009 Revision)
Commentary by Fred Pruitt
Preamble: December 2009
I wrote this the first time in 2001, using only the first verse of this tremendous Handel hymn. In succeeding years I have touched it here and there, adding a condensed look at the other three verses. Since 2001 I have sent this out every year in the Christmas season, but I have never really addressed my take on Christmas itself. Since the piece below on “Joy to the World” is long enough, this won’t be too long, but I thought after nine years it was time to be a little more personal.
You would think Christmas would be my favorite time of the year. It always was when I was a kid. I loved the presents, the decorations, the TV specials, the parties, singing Christmas carols. I loved it all.
My Christmas joy started to erode in my teen years — a usual occurrence I imagine — and continued through into my early twenties. But just as joy about the holiday and the things surrounding it waned, the most momentous event of my life occurred on Christmas Night, 1972.
I’ve told this story enough times that many who read this will know it, so I won’t go over the details again. But to sum up, what occurred that cold Christmas night on a dark country road in Georgia, changed everything about my life forever.
I had been running. For some time, something had been after me. Janis and I had been married by that time a few months, and our first son John was due to arrive the next spring. The pervasive cold of that night under the crisp stars was the brutal harbinger of what was staring me in the face. The vision I saw was myself, a cold shell with nothing in it, a stark, empty darkness. At age 21 already defeated, down for the count, nowhere to go, nobody to be.
However, I had been pulled out into that cold that night. I didn’t know why I went. I had no idea what would happen.
In deep pain I cried out, “God — IF you’re there ….!”
I didn’t believe. I didn’t hear any voices. I saw no vision except the dark clear sky filled with little dots of light above me and all around me. I got no goosebumps. I didn’t even hear an “inner voice.” Except for my cries from depths I didn’t even know, there were no sounds.
But after my cries I walked back to the house up the road, went inside and told the people in the house, who said I looked “different” when I came back in, that, “I don’t know what this means, but from now on I’m following Jesus.”
That started something in my space-time milieu that I learned later God had started in Himself before there was a world or a “me,” that has gone on and on and on since then, running almost of itself, that I have found since then that I cannot stop — and I have tried!
I was thinking on that tonight, and about Christmases since. Because I said at the beginning that you’d think Christmas would have always been, especially since that night, a wonderful season for me. But for me it has often not been the case. The reason is that so many subsequent Christmas seasons would find us in great need, unable to give what we wanted to give, and needing help for our own survival. We could buy Christmas presents for our kids, but it would often be at the cost of utility bills or some other necessity, which made Christmas more a time of stress and self-torture and self-recriminations, than a time for rejoicing in Christ and what He had come for. For many a Christmas I almost cursed the whole thing, because for me it seemed to be a annual reminder of my own failure. And not only that aspect, but as our family grew so did the stresses in our family. Like most of us, we always had such high hopes for the season, always wishing it could be like it was when we were kids again, but so often it wasn’t, but filled with problems, fights, arguments, frustrations, angers.
But I go back to what happened that night. I’ve gone there many many times. What happened out there in the cold?
I didn’t meet a book.
I didn’t meet a preacher that I thought hung the moon.
I certainly didn’t meet a church or a denomination.
I didn’t meet a doctrine or a body of truth.
I didn’t meet a creed or a system.
I didn’t meet a set of how-to’s, techniques, procedures, laws or commandments.
I didn’t even meet the solution to all my problems.
No one will understand this except a person who has experienced this same thing, but what happened that night is that I met a Person. A Living Divine Person. When I cried that night to the invisible sky, Someone more than sky was there. Someone other than stars heard. And in a way beyond human understanding or outside of rational understanding, that Living Divine Person made Himself known in me from the moment the words came out of my mouth, “I don’t know what this means, but from now on I’m following Jesus.”
I have since learned many things, things that could fill books and books. But they all boil down to this great simplicity, in the words of John the Baptist at the River Jordan, when he saw Jesus walking along the bank: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” End of Preamble
JOY TO THE WORLD
Joy to the world, the Lord is come …
Imagine, for a moment, what world. Into what world does the Lord from heaven come? Into what lowly manger, what dirty stable full of dung, does the Babe from heaven consent to lie? Nowhere else but in the lowly manger and the dirty stable full of the dung of human reality. Into the very place HE should not be, as we would think, for it’s not fine enough, not clean enough, not fancy enough, and certainly not HOLY enough, for the Majesty from On High to make His dwelling place. And such are we! We are the lowly manger; We are the dirty stable full of dung, into whom the Lord generates Himself as a newborn Babe. Into the conflict and strife of the world that beats in and wears out our fleshly hearts, into the midst of the pain we feel every day from things not being as we wish they were, into the mire of the consequences of actions and decisions that seem insoluble, into the depths of the underlying fear that gnaws at the center of our very being in every moment of our existence, there … there …. the BABE IS born!
Let earth receive her king; Let every heart prepare Him room …
He was born 2000 years ago in Bethlehem only to point out the fact that He is born in us, right now, today. In US? Yes, in us! What can that mean? Simply that in the midst of our innermost selves, in the mysterious mess of that which we know to be “ourselves,” HE arises as the appearing of dawn in our hearts, a suddenly turned-on light where there had been only darkness and despair, a miraculously appearing and surprising hope, where before there had been none. How? By the hearing of the gentle sound of His Voice, resonating in the depths of the depths of our own earth, our own selves. It is a familiar voice, without condemnation, without judgment, a voice of pure love, closer in than our own thoughts about ourselves, deeper than our fears, calling us each by name, to which we can only respond in silence and awe.
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing!
Heaven and Earth, Heaven and Nature are united for all Eternity in the Babe in the manger surrounded by the donkeys and cattle and fodder and shepherds. Our human reality, our whole existence, which had sunk into pits of tar and quicksand from which it could not extricate itself, by the birth of the Babe into the very midst of everything which we know to be ourselves, is once again reunited and made one with that from which it sprang. We have forever been God’s offspring, though we have lost our way. The Kingdom of God, which is not some far-off place far above the clouds, or over in Glory Land by and by, the Son of Man says is “within us.” Where the Babe is born, there heaven is manifest. Where the Babe is born the glory, power and majesty of the Holy Almighty God spills out into everything, even though to merely human eyes and noses things may look and smell like a stable full of dung. But nevertheless, wherever He is, a bright star is shining above and hosts of angels are singing eternally “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, Peace and Goodwill to men.” When He arises in us, heaven and earth are united, made one, and all the choruses of heaven and all the sounds of nature (ourselves) unite in a symphony of harmony, melody, and praise that vibrates throughout the farthest and most secret meadows of our seemingly frustrated human existence, breaking forth into the most glorious SONG every heard. “Heaven AND earth are FULL of thy Glory!”
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns; Let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains ….
Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, the sounding joy.
Joy to the EARTH! The Savior reigns! This is the hidden GOOD news. It is hidden from our minds and hearts until the Day the Babe is born in us and then like a seed in the ground it grows until one day the plant sprouts its foliage into the noonday sun, and we SEE the fullness of His Kingdom, above, beyond, in, and through, ALL THINGS. A universal vision too wonderful for expression overtakes us in a moment of eternity, and earth is transfigured with heaven and we see GOD in His heaven everywhere.
Therefore let us all break out banjos and harpsichords, kazoos, zithers and accordions, bang sticks on wooden blocks and let loose the most boisterous cacophony of disharmonious competing sounds the universe has ever heard! Like toddlers in preschool, just go out there on that playground and MAKE SOME NOISE, SING YOUR SONGS, PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENTS! Don’t be embarrassed. Dance your dance and if you can’t dance, jump up and down and wiggle your arms. Sing off-key. Don’t remember the words. Mess up the verses. IT DOESN’T MATTER! Sing the song you’re given. It’s the only one that will work. His Song is your life, the one He gave you. A perfect song, and it flows into the hills and the mountains, rattling and shaking all the rocks of the world. It makes the stars dance and the heavens thunder. Hear the Song even Now! Even the warming up is the song. As it is in Heaven so it is in earth, and the Joy of Heaven resounds and resounds throughout the entire creation. The One Who has overcome reigns!
No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessing flow. Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.
When the Babe is born in us he is present in every “now” of our lives. Every now includes all the endless machinations of our brains — fearing the dark, plotting our upward path, building cases in our own defense, thinking of ways out, or wishing things were different. He is NOT absent! Every now includes every moment we’d like to lash out, tell ol’ so & so a thing or two, punch a hole in the wall. Every now includes going on our first date and closing the car door on her dress. Every now includes every moment we ever had of “lucid inspiration” as well as every moment we’ve been in the gray haze of apathy. For in the rising of the Sun over the mountains in the dawn, as the Light begins to first just creep over the top, and then suddenly the fullness of the Sun in a blink-of-an-eye-instant blankets the whole countryside, just so the Light of the Babe of Bethlehem in us blankets the whole countryside of our human existence. As far as the curse has extended, as far as it has gone, as deep as it has crept, that far and MORE has the Light radiated, til there is no more place found for the darkness. Nothing in us is cursed, but all blessed in the Babe, all that we are, all that we have been, all blessed, all forgiven, all made right, all — to the nth degree. Nothing has been left out. ALL!!!!!
He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love, and wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders of His love.
He came to be born in the manger of our hearts, to be the Light of every moment of our world. Therefore “truth and grace” springing out of Heaven within us rule our world. “Truth and grace” pour out of the sky, speak to us from billboards, blast us from the radio, hit us in the face with a banana cream pie! He IS Truth and HE IS Grace and HE IS everywhere. We see Him just where His opposite appears to be. Though He is abundance and bounty, we see Him in poverty and lack. He is POWER and MIGHT, and we know Him in impotence and weakness. He is HOLY and RIGHTEOUS, yet He came to us in our own sins and gave us His Own Holiness.
And now HE goes forth, the Mighty King and Victor, raised up out of the very mire of our own lives, He the Mighty King consenting to prove the glories of His Righteousness and Wonders of His Love out of the very stable full of the dung of our lives He came to in the beginning. The “wonder” of His Love is that it has NO BOUNDS, nor has any requirement to earn it, nor has any debt or obligation to it except to receive it. And the further “wonder” of His Love is that the Love makes itself again in us, just where we thought we were the farthest from being love. We were born to love, born to give, and in Him we are made again to reflect His image, to fulfill our destiny, to be who we are meant to be. Being exactly who you are, Christ in you in this present moment, is the wonder of His love, and truth, and grace, and righteousness, and Joy.
Joy to the world, the Lord IS come. Merry Christmas!