Behind the Carols: Joy to the World

“Joy to the World,” it is how we end every Christmas Eve service here at University Lutheran. This classic Christmas hymn is based on Psalm 98, which is a psalm of high praise – a good fit for a Christmas hymn, but it is also based on Genesis 3.

The third verse of the hymn starts off “No more let sins, and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground . . .” Isaac Watts, the writer of the hymn is clearly evoking the curse of Genesis 3, a curse wherein mankind is relegated to the frustrations of life – the pain of making a living from a frustrated earth. While the images are of farming, this isn’t just an agricultural curse – it’s a vocational one.

Because of sin, we have frustration. In Genesis 3 when God delivers the curse, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread,” it becomes a curse for all human endeavor. Our striving, our challenges, our growth – all of it comes with the frustration of the “sweat of our face”, the grind. Even in our Psalm for this upcoming Sunday, Psalm 128, we see this at work. Psalm 128 says that the person who is carrying a bag of seed out to the field does so with tears, but the person who returns with sheaves at the end of the harvest does so with shouts of joy. Even the things that bring us joy often are the product of the “sweat of our face”.

So the good news of the hymn, the joy of the world, is something that we haven’t experienced yet. In fact, it is something so antithetical to our experience of the world that it may not even seem possible or even imaginable. Think of this – a day when everything goes right, a day where your hardest task feels like play, a day where you don’t make any mistakes, a day where you are constantly “in the zone”. That is the promise of the Resurrection – that is the reason for joy, the curse is eliminated and we will be free —- not to “not work” but to work and have it feel like no work we have ever done.

That curse is erased by the One who “worked” for us by the sweat of His brow, praying in the Garden until blood dropped from His brow, knowing what job was ahead of Him. He worked so that our work, our vocations, would one day feel like Christmas morning playtime. Remember that this finals week as you’re working hard.