A merry and happy Christmas to you!
I’m addressing you from in front of Abney Park Chapel, an historic church built on a piece of property that Isaac Watts, the famous hymn and song writer, used to live. Isaac Watts brought us the famous Christmas hymn “Joy to the World.” “Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98. There are so many good verses in this Psalm, but the overall theme is about singing and praising the Lord and having joy because of the salvation He’s brought to the world.
We find allusions to this Psalm when the shepherds are out in the field and the angels appear to tell them about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The angels tell the shepherds this, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
Part of the message of Psalm 98 and of this message from the angels is that, because of this salvation that is going to be brought into the world because of Jesus being born, people will have great joy!
When I think about joy in the Christian life, I am reminded of something I was taught early on in my Christian walk about having joy in one’s life as we follow Jesus. It is based on Paul’s letter to the Philippians. It’s a very simple acronym, JOY: Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.
Philippians 1:21 says, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, we make him the priority. He’s the first thing in our life. “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus said.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as more important than yourself.” Do not merely look after your own interests, but also the interests of others. It’s so easy in our selfish world to think of ourselves first, but part of having joy is thinking of the other person before yourself.
And the “y” is for yourself. You are so important to the Lord! You are important to His cause and His purposes on earth.
So, here we are at Christmas, and God desires for you and me to have His joy. As Isaac Watts wrote, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing.”
I hope this Christmas you are preparing room in your heart for our Lord Jesus Christ. But not only that, that you’re putting Him first, the other second, and yourself last.
God bless you!
Archbishop and Primate, Anglican Church in North America