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Worship Message - O Come...Joy

O Come…Joy

Welcome to the first of this year’s Advent messages. Messages that will, each week, be based on various songs of Christmas. Songs that will sometimes be happy, such as the second one for this message. Songs that will other times be sad, such as the first one. A song that portrays the problems faced by people shortly before the birth of Jesus. Problems that led them to cry out for a Savior to come.

I have done a bit of research to get a description of the problems people, including God’s people, faced shortly before the birth of Jesus.

Let me begin with political problems.

Throughout their history, the people of God had been dominated by a series of foreigners, among them Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian Empires. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Roman Empire ruled a vast part of the world, including Palestine, the homeland of the Jews. Under Roman domination, the Jewish people had to report to King Herod, who was kind of a governor of the area. Herod reported to Rome.

Officially, the Roman government allowed those in their empire various freedoms, including - this introduces the issue of religious problems - freedom of religion. But that was tempered by a few things.

Such as the Roman taxes people in Palestine were required to pay, despite the fact they were opposed to having to support the very government that dominated them. A non-religious government. A government that eventually - not necessarily at that time, but the mood for it was at least developing - a government that eventually came to require worship of the emperor, which was way contrary to Jewish religious practice.
    
Plus, while the Jews were allowed their own court system, they lacked complete discretion. For instance, the death penalty could not be imposed except by going through the Roman government. That was a problem because Jewish law did, in some cases, allow the death penalty.

In addition, the view of the Roman government was that all religions were the same. That no religion was any better than any other. Which was viewpoint with which the Jews of course disagreed.

Interestingly, Roman domination, by the time of Jesus, had driven a wedge between two groups of Jewish leaders. One group - the Pharisees - insisted on following Jewish law and Jewish tradition alone. The other group - the Sadducees - wanted to benefit from Rome. They favored political and religious cooperation with Rome. That created turmoil among God’s people.

Economically, there was, shortly before Jesus was born, a large disparity between rich people and poor people.

For some, things were good. The economy was good for those who owned fields that produced the main crops, which were olives, figs, grains, dates, and grapes. Things were also good for those who traded what was produced. Things were good, too, for the religious leaders. They were very well-cared for by the people of God. But there were many others who suffered, rarely having enough money to live comfortably. Those who suffered economically included common laborers, those who were slaves, and those who were unemployable - lepers, the blind, the insane, the crippled.

Adding to the economic woes, especially of the poor, there were, as mentioned, Roman taxes that needed to be paid.

In addition, all Jews were required to pay Temple taxes, which helped pay the religious leaders. Such taxes also paid for upkeep of the Temple. There were no arguments about the Temple taxes. It was just that with the Roman taxes, the Temple taxes were an extra burden.

And there were sacrifices the people of God were required to make. Sacrifices of animals that cost money. And there were some who sold sacrificial animals who charged way more than the animals were worth. That just added to the difficulties faced by the Jews shortly before Jesus was born.

And concerning the selling of sacrificial animals, that sometimes happened within the outer parts of the Temple. Parts where there was to be prayer and worship, which were of course difficult to do because of the noise of the selling, along with the noise of the anger that being cheated produced.

Culturally, there were some big cities. Jerusalem was the main example. Much of the nation, though, was rural. There were many small villages around which people farmed.

It was, by the way, men who did the farming. For a woman, her responsibilities were to  prepare food for her family, that taking most of each day with grinding grain and baking bread and milking animals and carrying water. Any time beyond that was probably filled with laundry, all the while raising her children.

Of course, most of the rest of the world lived that same way with farming for the men and food preparation for the women. But the point is that life was not easy shortly before Jesus was born.    

And houses. Many had just one or two all purpose-type rooms with dirt floors, flat roofs, and low and narrow doorways. Many houses got so hot on summer days it was common for people to sleep at night on their roofs.

Educationally there was conflict faced by God’s people. It was based on the fact that the Jews thought Jewish law, Jewish ethics, and Jewish history were what should be learned, but the Roman empire thought something different. The empire stressed Roman traditions and Roman philosophies, along with science, fine arts, linguistics, and bodily training.

Plus, while Jews considered their synagogues to be the main places where education should take place, it was Roman practice to use what were called gymnasiums where anyone and everyone was free to gather.

I don’t think there were many if any gymnasiums in Palestine, but what was studied and where created a sense of conflict in the lives of God’s people shortly before the birth of Jesus. And there were some other religious problems God’s people faced. Most Jews were willing to fight for the purity of their faith, but there were other influences around. Again, the idea being pushed was that all religions were the same. That the Jewish faith was no better than any other faith.

I wonder if the Roman ideas - the Roman culture - were attractive to some Jewish children. If so, that made it difficult for Jewish parents to teach their children.
    
In addition, the Jewish people believed in one God who was invisible and could not be portrayed. Many other cultures in the Roman Empire believed in many gods who could be represented by images or idols.
    
And this. In the world at the time shortly before Jesus’ birth, there was much interest in the supernatural. Curses and superstitions were very popular. Those things were opposite what the Jews taught.
    
And this. The Jews were waiting for a Messiah - for a Savior - predicted many places in the Old Testament. That of course bothered the Romans since the Messiah was thought to be the one who would overthrow the Roman domination of the Jewish people. The empire certainly did not think that was a good idea.

And one more thing religiously. Something related, not to Rome, but to Jewish leaders. All God’s people knew the Ten Commandments. They knew all of God’s laws in the Old Testament. But some of their Jewish leaders had, over the years, taken the commandments and the basic laws and expanded them, coming up with thousands and thousands and thousands of rules and regulations designed to explain what God meant. What God must have thought should be fairly easy to understand, Jewish leaders had made very, very complicated. Which was yet another burden God’s people were forced to face. Yet another problem that led the people of God, shortly before Jesus was born, to cry out for rescue.

A cry represented in the Christmas song that is first for today. “O come, o come,” was the cry of the people of God. “O come help.”

Politically, they wanted independence, not Roman domination.

Economically, they must have wondered why life could not be easier. Culturally, they must have wondered the same thing.

Educationally, why could they not be free to teach what they knew was most important?

Religiously, they seemed unfree to follow God’s teachings, instead having to learn and try to obey thousands of man-made explanations. The difficulty of that being the teaching that any violations of any of the rules and regulations would result in condemnation.

Where was the love God was supposed to have? Where were the blessings He was supposed to offer? Why was life so difficult in all ways? That is what the people of God wondered shortly before Jesus was born. A wondering that led to them crying out, “O come, o come.”

But listen. The crying out was not just idly done, as in, “Woe is me.” No. The people of God knew who to cry out to. They cried out to the Messiah even their ancestors had awaited. To the Savior described many ways in the song O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Including Emmanuel. O come, o come, Emmanuel, that name meaning, “God with us.”

Isn’t it interesting the song would use that name - that description - which is an accurate part of the gist of the song, which has to do with the mood of people before Jesus. That name comes from Isaiah 7. It indicates the people of God did not want just any rescuer. They wanted God to come be with them. They knew Adam and Eve, in the beginning of the Bible, had God with them personally. The people of God shortly before Jesus was born wanted the same kind of presence. They were suffering in all sorts of ways. They knew it was God they needed to rely on.

O come, o come, Emmanuel. O come, Thou Dayspring.

As the song reminds us, it was gloomy shortly before Jesus’ birth. It was spiritually cloudy. There was a lack of hope politically, economically, culturally, educationally, religiously. So the people of God needed a dawning of hope. Hope for a new beginning. Which Dayspring represents, which is a name found in the Book of Job. The Dayspring would disperse the gloom and the spiritual clouds. The Dayspring would bring cheer. That is what the people of God cried out for.

O come, Thou Wisdom, defined in Hebrew teachings as including honesty, hard work, and concern to have a good reputation. Those are all qualities of God - the God those who cried for a Savior knew through worship. It was a wise Savior they wanted.

O come, Desire of nations. Isn’t that an interesting description? A description of who the Savior turned out to be. The Savior, not just for the Jews, but for all who would and still will accept salvation. A Savior who is, as the song describes, able to bind people together, able to get rid of envy, strife, quarrels, able to give peace.

The people of God, shortly before the birth of Jesus, suffered politically, economically, culturally, educationally, religiously. They knew they could not solve their problems on their own, and they were so distraught, they cried out for relief. They cried out to Emmanuel. They cried out for the one who would bring the dawn of hope. For a Savior known for His honesty. For His works. Someone with a good reputation. They wanted help from one who should be desired by all nations.

That is to whom those people cried out. And as the chorus of the song proclaims, those people promised to rejoice if such a Savior came. A Savior they hoped would come.

Guess what. Just about 2000 years ago, Emmanuel, Dayspring, Wisdom, Desire of nations came. Just about 2000 years ago, the hope for a Savior was fulfilled. He did come. His name was Jesus.

By the way, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has a few other verses that can be added. One of them refers to the Savior as the Rod of Jesse.

Jesse was the father of David. David eventually became the king of God’s people. It was through David’s family the Savior was to come. Therefore the Rod of Jesse was a description of the hoped for  Savior.
    
But rod. That is a significant part of the description.

You see, Jesse’s family - David’s family - that branch of God’s people - was, shortly before the birth of Jesus, no longer as important in a worldly way as it had been halfway through the Old Testament. But a rod - a new shoot - was about to come from the branch. A shoot that would be small, tender. As in the form of a baby, which is how Jesus came to earth.

Just about 2000 years ago, Jesus - Emmanuel, Dayspring, Wisdom, Desire of nations, Rod of Jesse - Savior - came. He was born. Which means the hope of the people of God was fulfilled. Their crying out was answered. Which is something that should, then and now, be greeted with great joy. Which leads to the second song for today, Joy to the World!

By the way, Joy to the World! was written by Isaac Watts. In just a very brief comment about Watts, he lived during the late 1600’s and the first half of the 1700’s.

I might mention that the words of today’s first song - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - were first written in Latin about 800 A.D.. The words were transcribed into German in 1710. They were set to a tune dating back to the 1400’s. Today’s first song originated much earlier than today’s second song.

Watts lived in the late 1600’s and the first half of the 1700’s, toward the end of the time in Christian history when things were changing musically.

For a while, the only music that had been allowed in Christian worship services was the singing of Psalms. But some had begun to not like that, especially since not all the Psalms lent themselves to the rhymes and rhythms of more modern worshipers and languages.

One of those who complained about worship music was Isaac Watts. Sometimes that resulted in persecution, but one day one of the leaders of his church said to him, “Fine. Give us something better.”

One of the better songs Watts provided was Joy to the World! Let’s consider what the song teaches us about expressing joy. Joy, not just for us, but, as was taught with the words Desire of nations, should be felt by all since Jesus came for all.

Joy to the world. That is how the song starts. That is what Jesus is all about. Joy to the world.

Why? Because Jesus, the Lord - the Master - is come. He has come. And may, not just us, but all the world, receive Him as the King.

Jesus has come. There is joy in that knowledge. But listen. According to the second part of verse 1, each heart needs to make room for Him. Which means He needs to be accepted. That has to happen for you and anyone else to be saved. That has to happen for you to join all of Heaven and all of nature in singing.

Joy to the world. That is how verse 2 begins, followed by the words that the Savior reigns. Hey, isn’t that good news? He is in charge. That is what the people who cried out for a Savior wanted. That is what they cried out for. That is what Jesus is. That is good news. That is cause for joy. Joy that is to be sung.

Because of Jesus, listen to what can happen. What should happen. Verse 3. No more let sins and sorrows grow. And no more do thorns - spiritual thorns - have to cause problems. Those words mean His blessings include not only the part of salvation that forgives sins. They extend to helping us overcome sins. They extend to helping us deal with sorrows and thorns so we can survive them.

And again, He reigns. Verse 4. He rules the world. Not with cruelty, as Rome often did. Not with strife. Not with rules and regulations that Jewish leaders came up with that cloud spiritual issues. But with truth and grace.

And hey, bad ruling was what the people of God endured shortly before Jesus’ birth. I dare say there is some bad ruling going on now. ISIS comes to mind, as do so many, many dictators around the world.

But Jesus rules with truth. He rules with grace. Which we should pray will one day come to the world.
 
But He can also rule our lives, doing so in good ways. Let’s allow Him to do so. That way His glory, His righteousness, the wonders of His love will be known by us.

As that happens, maybe - hopefully - prayerfully - all those things will be known by others, too. As that happens, there will be joy to the world.

I wonder. Do you - do we - struggle in any of the ways the people of God struggled shortly before the birth of Jesus? Do we - do you - struggle politically, economically, culturally, educationally, religiously?

Maybe if we do, it will not necessarily be government-directed. It might be personally that we are struggling in any of those ways. That might be the case, especially economically, culturally, religiously. Maybe some of you have some educational problems.

Do you need relief from gloom or relief from strife and quarrels? Do you need spiritual wisdom?

If so, know, this season and beyond, that the one who can help has already come. His name is Jesus. His description is Emmanuel, Dayspring, Wisdom, Desire of nations, Rod of Jesse.

Accept Him. Then proclaim His joy to your part of the world.

Let’s end the service with the second of the two songs talked about today. Let’s sing 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 song employ;
While fields and flocks, 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 come 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.

Two thousand years ago, God’s people had lots of problems. Interestingly, some of those problems were their own fault. Results of their behaviors. But the problems were severe, which caused a hope for a Savior. A hope displayed in a crying out. “O come, o come,” God’s people cried.

God could have ignored the cries, especially concerning the self-imposed problems. But He did not. Instead, He sent Jesus, which offered joy to the world.

Let’s pray. God, help us, this season and always, to accept the joy You offer through Jesus. Help us to make sure Jesus is our King - and our Emmanuel, our Dayspring, our Wisdom. Help us proclaim that Jesus, the Rod of Jesse, should be the desire of all nations. Help us each day to make sure there is room for Him in our hearts. Help us, together and with all of Heaven and nature, to sing His praises and Your praises.

Jesus, Merry Christmas. Thank You for coming. Amen.

    

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