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Let Earth Receive Her King

BECKY KIERN|CONTRIBUTOR

Joy to the world!
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 Savior reigns;
Let men 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 sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

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, wonders, of His love.

-Isaac Watts, 1719

Everlasting Joy

Sometimes things become so deeply embedded in the zeitgeist, the cultural experience, that we forget its intended meaning or purpose. A quick search on Spotify for “Joy to the World” shows recordings by everyone from Mariah Carey to Kenny G, Ella Fitzgerald to George Strait. There is no doubt that for years this song has been a beloved Christmas staple, embedded in American culture. I have to admit a smile comes across my face when the beauty of the redemptive promise blares at unsuspecting shoppers during the holiday season. As “Joy to the World” begins to be played on airwaves, in commercials, and sung in our churches, it is good to take a moment to ask what was the songwriters original intent?

Let Earth Receive Her King

Writing at the beginning of the eighteen century, a time when most church worship centered around the poetry of the Psalms, Isaac Watts’s “Joy to the World” finds its roots in Psalm 98. This uncredited psalm of praise, found in book four of the psalter, centers around a joyous celebration of Yahweh’s kingship. The Lord, Yahweh, has “made known His salvation” (Ps. 98:2), “revealed His righteousness” (Ps. 98:2), and “remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps. 98:3). Yahweh’s faithful righteousness thus produces “joyous song and praises” (Ps. 98:4) in “all the earth” (Ps. 98:4).

Although not originally written as a Christmas or Advent hymn, “Joy to the World” becomes arguably the perfect Advent song….

Celebrating Advent with Your Family

ELIZABETH SANTELMANN|GUEST

While I was pregnant with our first son, I dreamed of my near Christmas due date. The fresh smell of a newborn combined with the hymns of the season to make the Christmas story real in a new way for me. 

However, when it arrived, the joyful expectation I had anticipated was drowned out by the needs of a baby. Nighttime feedings, a tender body needing to heal, and learning what it meant to be a mother consumed my energies. Rather than the breathtaking euphoria I had anticipated, I was overwhelmed with panic in December when I realized that I was now responsible for the traditions and culture of the Christmas season. 

Growing up, my parents tried to focus on “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.” As a first-generation Christian, my mom wanted Christmas to be deeply meaningful. She or my dad would read us the Christmas story before we opened presents. We also had a HUGE cookie production. We would bake hundreds of cookies and take them with a gospel-centered Christmas card to all our neighbors. In church, I remember hearing rumblings of anger about how people in the would say, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” and concern that people were “taking Christ out of Christmas.” 

With our kids, I knew I wanted faith and Christmas to flow together more positively and naturally. But how? 

Discovering Advent 

The year after my first son was born, I discovered Advent. I had settled into my husband’s childhood church. It frustrated me because none of the songs they sang in early December were familiar. I wanted the achingly beautiful songs of Christmas, the ones I remembered from my childhood. This was also the year I joined the choir at our church. One day, the choir director explained to us why and how the hymns in Advent season were chosen each week. 

The songs from the first Sunday in December until Christmas Eve were picked to reflect the building desire of the Israelites’ longing for a Messiah…

Trusting God in the Foster Care Journey

SHEA PATRICK|GUEST

I have a confession to make. Sometimes when I start a new book, I immediately turn to the end of the story to see what is going to happen. In the same vein, I often read spoilers to know what is going to happen in a television show I am watching. I want to protect myself from being surprised by a bad ending.

My desire to know the end before I even start is constantly challenged by our involvement in foster care. Our family has had multiple children in and out of our home, and there is only one thing that you can count on with foster care:  you have no idea what is going to happen when the Department of Social Services (DSS) is involved. Many aspects of our family life— where we live, what kind of trips we can take— are subject to the whim of a court that does not even know our family. For someone who likes to be in control and make plans, not knowing the future can be a nightmare. I am learning I can put my trust in one sure thing: God.

Trusting God in the Beginning

When we take in a foster child, it is often on short notice. The state (DSS) calls and tells us a case worker is on the way with a child. Many times, the grief the child feels is overwhelming and heartbreaking. There have been times when our other children woke up in the morning with a new child in the house who was not there the night before. It disrupts family patterns and routines. Immediately, I jump into planning mode, arranging doctor visits, school registrations, counseling, and other services. I secure clothing and other needed items. These plans are difficult to make when I don’t know how long a child will be with us. It’s overwhelming to know where to begin. Often, I return to a verse in 2 Chronicles: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The Lord lifts my eyes from the craziness of the circumstances and walks with me through the next steps He would have us to take.

Trusting God in the Middle

Often in foster cases, the child’s birth family is still involved. DSS schedules visits for the child to visit with parents and siblings. When we first began fostering, I admit things were very black and white for me. I assumed that because these parents had children in the system, they must be “bad parents.” The more that we have been involved in foster care, the more I have seen how this is not true. As we have gotten to know the child’s biological parents, we often see how a bad decision or a string of bad decisions have ramifications for everyone. God enabled us to build relationships and show compassion to those whose children we care for— to honor their birth families and existing relationships. It has been humbling to see how the brokenness in other families often mirrors the brokenness in my own, creating common ground. Involvement in another family’s story can be messy, but we find time and time again that “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18)…

Turning the Dials at Thanksgiving

HOLLY MACKLE|CONTRIBUTOR

It’s Thanksgiving and I’m in the kitchen turning dials, trying so hard to get everything just right. If only I spoke of solely the oven dial—but who can forget the relational dials, the conversational dials, the quick repentance dials, and even the simple act of dialing the number just to extend the invitation. At the holidays it seems there are far too many complex layered dials to turn and crank and adjust just so. It can be downright exhausting.

My brilliant neighbor owns and operates her own medical testing lab. (STEM girl, whoop!) At the very beginning of the Covid crisis—you remember, the days when we didn’t understand the first thing about transmission—one of her employees began running a high fever. My neighbor sent her entire staff home and undertook the painstaking process of sanitizing and deep cleaning the lab all by herself. Trouble was, this wasn’t the chemistry lab from our high school recollections. My friend sanitized every piece of precision equipment, each complex apparatus with countless knobs, dials, levers, and pulls. I can still see my sweet neighbor’s face as she described the nature of what had to be done. It was all-encompassing. She had to find and scour every crevice for the protection of all involved.

I’m hard-pressed to think of anything that sounds more like Jesus to me.

Her actions remind me of the Christ who won’t stand for a quick wipe down of our hearts. His holiness and utter righteousness can’t give it a once over and call it a day—his beloved are at stake. For any particle of sin left on us or in us makes us unacceptable to his Father, the God of all cellular levels, protons, elements, and even viruses…

Give Thanks to the Lord

SARAH IVILL|CONTRIBUTOR

Many of us will soon gather around tables with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. For some of us, the day will be filled with feasting and fun. For others, the day will be one of grief and sadness, especially if loved ones are missing from the table. But regardless of whether we are rejoicing or weeping this holiday season, the Bible teaches us to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16), and Psalm 118 teaches us how and why to do this.

The psalmist calls us to give thanks to the Lord for three main things: His steadfast love, His salvation, and His stone.

Give Thanks for His Steadfast Love

Psalm 118 opens in the same way it closes, highlighting the eternality of God’s covenant love, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever” (118:1, 29). The Lord’s goodness is grounded in His covenant love for His people and God’s people should praise Him for it. The psalmist could not be clearer that all believers should sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, “Let Israel…the house of Aaron…those who fear the LORD say, ‘His steadfast love endures forever’” (vv. 2-4).

Ever since Genesis 3, the account of humankind’s fall into sin, the thread of the covenant of grace has been woven throughout Scripture. God’s covenant love endures because it is based on the obedience of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came as both Lord of the covenant, extending grace and peace, as well as the servant of the covenant, perfectly fulfilling the law of God on our behalf. “All the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor. 1:20). This Thanksgiving our hearts should give thanks for the Lord’s steadfast love…

Stewarding the Struggle

KAREN GRANT|GUEST

The rough concrete scratched my toes as I focused on keeping my nose above water at the Fun in the Sun Club pool in Arlington, Texas. My goal that day was to touch the bottom. Water pooled in my ears and my hair swayed like seaweed in my eyes as I learned to hold and release my breath while flipping upside down to touch the bottom. Then I could swim toward the light. My parents applauded as I ventured into deeper and deeper water, opening my eyes to churning legs and feet, and watching my breath in measured bubbles. Discovering that less and less effort was required to break the surface, I began to trust air and water to do what they do.

Where were you in the murky pool called the pandemic—that time of uncertainty, fear, and crisis? Were you upside down, attempting to avoid the churning chaos, swimming for the light before you ran out of breath, looking for cheer from someone, anyone out there?

To gain perspective, we must somehow step outside of our own view. I believe the only healthy way to do that is to open God’s word to a relevant passage, engage with it, wring it out, cry into it, and ask questions until we get to the bottom. We submerge ourselves and trust Christ to do what He does when we engage with the living and active breath of God. We burst through the surface into His world, His thoughts, His reality, and it does what He does: it reveals areas where we must repent, restrains us from wrong, and sheds enough light for at least the next step.

Stewarding Our Sorrows

I remember the image of my pastor many years ago as he related the death of over ten friends or family within the span of a year. He and his wife were left empty; they could only be still and listen. They realized that stewardship is not only for money, gifts, and time, but also includes stewarding our sorrows. He held his hands out in the shape of a bowl before the congregation and told us that all he had to offer the Lord was ashes. This image continues to guide me as I’ve come to Jesus with my own offerings of ashes due to losses, severed relationships, and broken dreams, laying them at His feet and trusting Him to make them beautiful in His time.

My question to Jesus in 2020-21 then became, “How can I steward this unto Your glory? Would you use me, and re-form me to bring comfort and encouragement to others?” He took me to Isaiah 12, and I was stunned. The truths in this chapter are clear for both its original and prophetic audiences, the covenant people of God.

Gratitude, Opportunity, and Joy

This is what I found: Our stewardship comes through gratitude, opportunity, and joy. Look at verses 1 and 2…