Every year at Christmas and Easter stories emerge in the popular press concerning the significance of both holidays. Rarely is it positive and more often than not stories are often posted with a view to undermine traditional Christian teachings about the Biblical narratives. Today I came across an interesting article in the Huffington Post by Rabbi Evan Moffic. Rabbi Moffic officiates at the Congregation Solel, a Reformed Jewish Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. We will link to the article at the bottom of this post.
In Matthew chapter 16 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But who do you say I am?” Jesus asked. And so Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? (2 Cor 2:14–16)
I’ve heard the song only a couple of times now, and so I can’t quote it exactly. But it’s message goes something like this: it’s not our interpretations that matter, it’s not our firmly held positions, it’s not the doctrinal points we argue over—“It’s still the cross!”
Christmas is possibly the only season of the year where many in the West seem much more open to declaring the glory of Christ and his kingdom through the singing of carols and hymns than throughout the rest of the year. There is no question that song is a powerful medium for declaring truth (and error!). In the life of the church singing is a shared religious experience, an activity that joins women and men, old and young, poor and rich in a common bond and can be a tremendous vehicle for teaching truth. People sing about what moves them, positively or negatively, and thus songs are often rich sources of the lived-orthodoxy or piety of a believing community. Yet often the words long-memorized in tunes embedded in our hearts pass from our eyes to our lips with little reflection in between. In what follows, I want to look at one popular Christmas hymn and try to answer the question, “What sort of spirituality does Joy to the World!” teach?
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851–1921) is well known as the great polemic theologian of Old Princeton Seminary. He is also well known as the great exponent of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.