There are many differing sides to Christmas in our culture today. For many, Christmas is a time of extraordinary busyness as we hurry from one event or party to the next. For others Christmas is a time of frustration and loneliness as they miss or are apart from family and loved ones. This time of year brings out so many different feelings and emotions. However, during this Christmas we must not lose sight of the main message of joy.
Psalm 98 reminds us vividly of the role of joy when we celebrate Christmas. The reason for the joy that we celebrate at Christmas is already very evident in the Old Testament. The writer of this Psalm knows, even before Jesus the Messiah is born, that God would reign completely. He knew that God would bring full and complete salvation to the world and to His people. Let’s read Psalm 98.
I. Let’s look first at our past salvation.
The Psalm begins in verses 1-3 with an invitation to sing a new song to the Lord. This new song refers to ongoing and continuous praise to God. It is praise that comes new everyday and so is inexhaustible. The reason for this ongoing praise is simply that God “has done marvelous things.” The key word in this first section is “salvation” which is the reason for this praise.
Notice the description of the salvation in these verses. First, in verse 1 we see that God himself has brought salvation. It is God’s right hand and his holy arm that have saved them from death. Second, this act of salvation is not closed or private to God’s own people. Verse 2 says that this salvation has been made known to all the nations. Then in verse 3, the writer lays out specifically what he has been leading up to. The reason for praise is that God has remembered his covenant love and faithfulness to God’s people, Israel. All the love and care he promised to them in the covenant he made with them has now been carried out. This psalm was likely written as the people returned from captivity in Babylon. They knew that they had sinned in the past, but now they have repented of their sins; and now God has forgiven them and is restoring them.
II. The next section in verses 4-6 presents us with the present joyful task.
Now the whole earth, seeing the change in God’s people, is invited to shout for joy to the Lord. They are to gladly recognize God as their king. They are invited to do this with song and with various musical instruments. The call also contains the invitation to serve him for if they will praise Him, it also means that they will want to obey and submit to him fully. All nations and peoples are invited to shout for joy to God along with God’s people.
Our task today is to invite all the earth to shout for joy to the Lord with us. We have been marvelously changed by God’s great work of salvation in us, but does the world realize this great change in us? Do people see in us the difference that knowing Jesus makes in our lives? Our faith in Jesus Christ should radically change not only our lives, but it should also influence the lives of those around us. And the change in our lives is something that should give us true inner joy!
I suspect there are many Christmas “Botox” faces about now. Faces that seem to say joy because that is what everyone is supposed to be feeling but it covers the pain, anxiety or depression that the holidays often bring. But we have true joy and it is a joy that far exceeds anything that life throws at us. It is a joy that allows us to have a certain and confident hope no matter what the circumstances are in our lives. It is a joy that comes through even through frustration, tears and pain. That is the real joy we are called to show forth and that in itself is a joyful task! We are to invite the world around us to shout abroad the praises of God. We have experienced God’s salvation, our deliverance from sin and guilt! Let’s share that joy with others in our lives.
III. Finally, let’s look at the future universal rule.
This Psalm concludes in verses 7-9 with a look to the universal reign of God the king. Not only will all nations praise God, but all things created will sing and praise God. God is coming to judge and he will judge in fairness and righteousness. God will not show any favoritism for he will judge with equity. God will accept those who, by the working of the Holy Spirit, believe in Jesus Christ; and he will justly and rightly condemn those who do not believe. God, of course, is King over all right now, but someday he will finally and completely establish his kingdom when Jesus comes again. Jesus came first at the first Christmas to inaugurate God’s kingdom. We celebrate that marvelous gift this time of year. However, Jesus is coming again to complete his kingdom. Then all will see Jesus Christ as King and all the earth will resound with praise to God.
What do we do in the meantime? How do we live with God, the King? First, let’s take comfort. Let’s take comfort from the past in that Jesus has obtained our salvation for us in his coming to earth and his suffering and death. Moreover, let’s take comfort in the future, knowing that Jesus will come again as King to punish all the wrongs in this world and save those who believe. In the present, there may be sadness, disappointment and pain, but God is King today and is fully in control of all; we can be comforted in that today. Second, let’s shout for joy to all around us. We all have the task to proclaim and shout out the message of salvation and the fact of God’s reign to the world around us. We must be Christians who are ringing with shouts of joy! The question is how do we do that?
First, remember that the world in which we live is sin-darkened and blind. And so our shouting witness must be bold in our actions and words. Flannery O’Connor was once asked why, in her short-story fiction, she created such freakish characters. She responded, “To the almost blind, you must draw very large, and to the almost deaf, you must shout loud.” We need to shout for joy into a world filled with sin and the effects of sin.