the shape of leadership

Joy to the World!

Anticipating Christ’s appearing

George P Wood on December 4, 2023


Joy to the World” did not start as a Christmas carol. It wasn’t even a song. Rather, it was Isaac Watts’ reworking of Psalm 98 in English rhyme and meter. He intended it to celebrate Christ’s Second Coming.

End-times events were big when I grew up in the 1970s. Many churches screened A Thief in the Night, a film about the Rapture and Great Tribulation. A friend recently told me watching it as a 5-year-old scared him into Christianity.

Larry Norman’s “I Wish We’d All Been Ready” opened the movie with these lines:

Life was filled with guns and war,
And everyone got trampled on the floor.
I wish we’d all been ready.

So much for joy to the world!

Even the secular world was in an apocalyptic mood. Take the wars of the 1970s — both cold and hot — stir in fears of overpopulation and famine, add a sprinkling of conflict in the Middle East, and you can see why many thought the end of the world was nigh.

For the Church, the Second Coming brings hope, not fear — the joy of being found,
not the regret of
being left behind.

But it wasn’t, at least not right then.

A truth taken too far in one direction reacts by swinging too far in the other direction, like a pendulum. And so, end-times speculation gave way to a this-worldly focus. Christians stopped worrying about being left behind and started working toward their best life now.

Swinging pendulums gradually come to rest under the force of gravity. Theological gravity compels Christians to see extremes for what they are and to look for the unmoving point from which the pendulum hangs. That point is biblical doctrine, rightly interpreted.

Which brings us back to Isaac Watts, who understood what many Christians in the 1970s forgot: For the Church, the Second Coming brings hope, not fear — the joy of being found, not the regret of being left behind.

Watts also knew what many post-2000 Christians have forgotten: The best life is yet to come.

My favorite stanza in Watts’ poem is the third:

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.

Those four lines are a promise about Christ and an agenda for Christians. When we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20), we are saying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). And how we pray is how we should live.

With Advent and Christmas just around the corner, then, I wish you Maranatha!


This article appears in the Fall 2023 issue of Influence magazine.

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