Joy to the World, the Lord is Come
A sermon based on Psalm 98
December 25, 2013 – Christmas Day C
7… 14… 8… 52…. 9… "Wait a second!" Tim thought, "those are the exact same numbers printed on the lottery ticket in his hand—the numbers they just announced!" He won! And it was no small amount. He won so much money that his mind couldn't even grasp how much it really was. It was more then he had ever seen. He was instantly wealthy, even after you took out the taxes. And Tim couldn't help it! He jumped up and down! He shouted out loud! He starting singing, "I'm in the money! I'm in the money!" That's how excited he was.
Have you ever been that excited? Ever been so enthused that you couldn't help but shout out loud? Ever been so full of joy that you can't help but sing? The psalmist that we hear from this morning is so full of joy that he simply can't contain himself. He's just got to sing! What got him so excited? Did he win the lottery? No. He was excited about the great things God had done for him.
And this morning, dear friends, this Christmas Day, I hope that you too are excited, not because of the presents you've received, or the family you're with, but because on that first Christmas Day God brought joy to the world, when the LORD came down as a baby. Listen now to the overwhelming joy expressed by the psalmist in Psalm 98…
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 2 The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. 3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; 5 make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, 6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn— shout for joy before the Lord, the King. 7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. 8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; 9 let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
Wow! The psalmist sure is excited! Over what? Over the marvelous things the LORD had done. Perhaps he thought of the plagues God sent to release the Israelites from Egypt or the miracles he performed to preserve them in their wilderness wanderings! Maybe he thought of the battles God helped win and even fought for them! Time and time again God had worked salvation for his people by doing some pretty marvelous things.
But why did God do any of it? Why would God deliver that rebellious rabble who instantly began complaining against him the second they were rescued? Why would God bother saving them again and again? Well, it certainly wasn't because they were so great, but because God is. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel… God couldn't go back on his Word. He promised to deliver them and he promised to preserve them until the Messiah came. So that's exactly what he did.
And far more exciting still than saving them from physical death is what God did for his people spiritually. He worked salvation from sin for his people through that coming Messiah. He made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness through the prophets—the righteousness that he gave sinners through the coming Messiah.
Surely the psalmist must have been thinking about the promises God had made concerning the Messiah: "Eve's offspring would crush Satan's head." (Genesis 3:15) "All people on earth would be blessed through one of Abram's descendants." (Genesis 12:3) "One of David's descendants would establish God's house and would sit his throne forever." (1 Samuel 7:12-16) Perhaps he'd even heard the very vivid prophecy that, "God's servant would be stricken by God, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, so that the punishment placed upon him might bring mankind peace." (Isaiah 53:4-5).
The salvation the LORD made known was greater than being saved from the Egyptians, greater than being saved out of the wilderness, greater than any military victory the Israelites achieved. It was a salvation from sin, from iniquity, from transgression and the punishment of hell these deserved. And this salvation was meant for all people. "The LORD… revealed his righteousness to the nations… All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God." No one was excluded from this salvation! It was certainly meant even for them!
No wonder the psalmist had reason to rejoice! No wonder he tells God's people to sing! No wonder he tells the earth and inanimate creation to shout for joy and make music! His sins were forgiven! He had been saved! And not by his strength or effort, by the LORD's right hand and by His mighty arm.
And no wonder we rejoice today as well!
Psalm 98 ends with the reminder that "he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity." When you stop to consider that verse though, what joy is found there? How can we sing? If God is coming to judge in righteousness (that is, justice according to his standard of perfection), if he's going to judge in equity (giving each person what's fair, what he or she deserves) we ought to cower in fear!
We aren't righteous. We don't meet God's standard of perfection. In fact, we prove that in the way we break the 3rd Commandment. Remember how it goes in the Catechism? "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we do not despise preaching and the Word, but gladly hear and learn it." When we don't rejoice over the truth of God's Word, but view Bible class and worship as one more thing we have to do, like going to the dentist, we prove how sinful we are. When we don't sing for joy in our hearts if not out loud, we show how little we appreciate the forgiveness God gives. We don't want the Lord to judge us in equity. We don't want what's fair. It would be fair to send us to an eternity of torment in hell.
But instead of hell, we get heaven. Why? Because, "[the Lord] has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. 3 He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to [us! We] have seen the salvation of our God!"
We have been saved by that marvelous act of God himself, the King of the universe, becoming a human child! God has worked salvation for us, not by anything we do, but by his right hand and holy arm in sending that baby, his own Son, to be born in a manger, to live a perfect life in our place, to suffer hell on a cross in our place, to rise again in glory! He has made this salvation known to us in the Scriptures and has clearly revealed to us how he gives his righteousness to the nations; to the whole world—even to you and to me!
Joy to the world! The Lord has come to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. And we can't help but respond to this message! The psalmist writes these imperatives—these commands—in his song, "Sing to the Lord a new song… Shout for joy to the Lord… burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn— shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
But he hardly needs to give us a command. When we understand all that God has done for us, we can't help it! We're inspired by the salvation that God has worked for us! We are inspired by the salvation that he's made known to us! For we know that when "[the Lord] comes to judge the earth; [to] judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity," we know that he will judge us according to his righteousness that he's given to us and then he will give us what's fair! And that news is far more exciting than winning millions in the lottery! You've won salvation for eternity! That money can't buy. And you didn't have to do a thing for it! God did it all! And we are inspired. We're inspired to sing! To shout for joy! To burst into jubilant song and make music to the LORD!
And what do we sing? A new song! The same ol' song and dance of trying to earn our way into heaven is done away with. The new song of his salvation is played for us every day in the pages of our Bibles! And we can't help but sing along, in our music, in our actions, in our lives.
Even if you don't win the lottery, even if none of your Christmas wishes come true, even if you're otherwise miserable, you can still be like the tea kettle—which, when it's up to its neck in hot water, sings all the more loudly and clearly. For even then we are still inspired to sing: "Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare him room and heav'n and nature sing, and heav'n and nature sing, and heav'n and nature sing!" Amen.