EVANS MILLS — As this calendar year is quickly coming to an end, many people all over the world are celebrating Christmas in some fashion. This includes people who live and profess the Christian faith and those who do not.
Simply put, there is something about Christmas that attracts many people. For some, it is the show of lights and decorations on homes and store fronts. For others, it the inexhaustible offering of delectable sweets and goodies. And one could add to the list the following: office parties, social gatherings, vacation trips, shopping excursions. All of the aforementioned can be good things.
However, speaking for myself (and perhaps many of you), I find the singing of Christmas hymns and songs to be an uplifting and anticipatory experience in celebrating Christmas. Therefore, Christmas Eve church services are a highlight for me because they include many favorite Christmas hymns and songs that are near and dear to my heart and perhaps also yours. For the believer in Jesus Christ, these hymns and songs hold inspired verses based on the writings of both Old and New Testaments of the Bible. This music is intended to touch our hearts!
Additionally, there is a unique history behind each hymn. For example, one of my favorite Christmas hymns is “Joy to the World.” This hymn was written in 1719 by one of the foremost known Christian hymn writers, Isaac Watts. He grew up in a European culture of the time where most church service songs were based on the Psalms of the Old Testament.
Although Isaac Watts loved reading the Bible, he believed that the songs sung in these services had an “unnatural” feel to them. It is noted that after one particular church service, 15-year-old Isaac complained to one of the deacons at the service that the worship songs were “atrocious.”
The deacon is said to have replied, “Then give us something better, young man.” Young Isaac then went home and composed his first hymn, “Joy to the World.” He also had a book published in 1719 titled “Psalms of David Imitated.”
In essence, Isaac Watts took the Psalms of David and rewrote them in New Testament language. “Joy to the World” was written as an imitation of the last half of Psalm 98.
What Isaac Watts did was transform an old Jewish psalm of praise for historic deliverance into a song of rejoicing for the salvation of God that began when Jesus came “to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found.” Isaac Watts believed in the truth of the Gospels recording the birth of Jesus and the purpose for his birth. In his first written hymn, even as a 15 year old, he was inspired to write verses proclaiming that joy.
I do not know what the year 2019 held for you. Perhaps it was a difficult year for various reasons: sickness, divorce, loss of job, financial strains, etc. And perhaps, you do not feel very “Christmasey” as a result.
I encourage you, therefore, listen to uplifting and inspiring Christmas hymns and songs such as “Joy to the World.” Let these songs speak to your heart in the midst of your life circumstances. Christmas means Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ means God’s grace and love for you and me.
As the Apostle Paul has written, “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35). He answers his rhetorical question with a resounding “absolutely nothing” (read verses 36-39).
Therefore, keep singing those Christmas hymns and thank God for inspired hymn writers such as Isaac Watts. Merry Christmas to you!
The Rev. Steve Nagler of Evans Mills is a chaplain at Cape Vincent Correctional Facility. An ordained minister with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, he previously served as a chaplain in U.S. Army from 1985 to 2005.