Joy to the world – Colin Ferguson

Isaac Watts (1674 -1748)
Public Domain
Based on Psalm 98.

Tune: ANTIOCH (Mason) Lowell Mason (1792-1872), after George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)

Colin Ferguson

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king
let every heart prepare him room;
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let thorns infest the ground,
Or sins and sorrows grow;
wherever pain and death are found
he makes his blessings flow,
he makes his blessings flow,
he makes, he makes his blessings flow.

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, and wonders of his love.

Colin Ferguson

Friday 9th November and it is pouring with rain and the phone rings. Within an hour we are on the road to Manchester from Reading. The M6 is packed and it takes us seven hours to get there just as the hospital is chucking all visitors out. Nothing is going to stop us, This, is our first grandchild. Joy to the world a child is born! That was nearly thirty years ago now and just as precious were our children and the next five grandchildren. All of them a joy to greet into this world.

If you ever want to see what joy is like look at the face of the new parent or grandparent. New life, new hope, a promise for the future. It is all in this hymn, though this child is a special child and through him there will be new hope, new life, and the fulfilment of God’s promise. To me this is the song that introduces Christmas each year and this version of it includes the promise – no more let thorns infest the ground, or sins and sorrows grow,

Yet this hymn is not new, any more than God’s promise is new. Isaac Watts, as he so often does takes the familiar words of the psalmist to create a new song for the Lord out of a message from the past. Hymn writers have followed Watt’s example over the years and if anyone can be called the father of the modern hymn it would be Watts. Even the great Wesley, visited this inspirational preacher and writer. Today we still sing the words he wrote three hundred years ago to a tune written two hundred years ago. The message is not new but everlasting. The child is born and every Christmas we rejoice in his nativity.

The real joy however is that this joy is found in one of the worst scenes imaginable. The child is born in a stable, in a deeply restrictive background, there is no cause for joy, yet angels sing and wise men set out on a long and hazardous journey that make the M6 look like a picnic.

Joy comes in many guises and often in unexpected ways. We rejoice when we have a sense of achievement or when we score a goal. We have a party when we want to celebrate a notable age or date, even at Christmas. There are many ways we have of being happy but it is always transitory—and the washing up needs to be done. The real rejoicing is seen today as a long suffering Covid victim is applauded out of hospital. Joy is a sense of gratefulness, and massive thank you God.

I had my own experience of great thankfulness as I was stricken with TB in my twenties and very close to death when the room door was flung open by a young doctor. Good news Colin, you have TB. Needless to say I was a bit uncertain about the goodness of this information. He continued—“Now we know you can live!”

Joy to the world – it is not always what you want to hear but it is the good news, it means you can live. That was fifty years ago just after Christmas and the child is born again and again and again—Joy to the world you can be alive and love it, and be thankful and joyful.

It was this joyfulness that led me into working as a probation officer and the most common factor in all the people I worked with was the lack of Joy without taking drugs. I still believe that I was led into this work and especially into the two years I worked in Holloway prison on the short-term wing with a caseload of alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes and petty offenders. It was referred to as the sump. This to me was the gates of hell. There was no hope and little joy, and yet in a little way I was able to challenge them to look at the life they had and what they could have. I felt like the sower casting the seeds of hope but not knowing what would happen. Yet even here there was such a desire for love and hope and joy that I believed that somehow God would water the seed. Even in the darkest corners of our world there is a desire for love, and where there is love there is the good news, now you can live. Joy to the world.

Prayer

Thank you! Lord! for your great love, thank you that we can live in the hope and the joy of knowing you. Help us to be your joyful people and to go where you call us, even to the gates of hell. You raise us up out of the greatest struggles and show us the beauty of being alive.
Help us to spread your hope and love wherever we are and especially at this Christmas time to rejoice with you whatever is happening. Joy to the world, the Lord is with us. Amen

Joy to the world - traditional choir

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