by Martha-Jean Fitch
December 1, 2019 – Advent 1
Text:    Psalm 98, Luke 1:39-45



            The year was 1674.  People in and around London were suffering – having gone through the Bubonic Plague that killed over 100,00 people.   It was a time of much poverty and pain.   In the town of Southampton, just about 80 miles away, a baby named Isaac was born, who, despite living in a dark time,  was to bring a lot of joy to the world!


            He was raised by very strong and committed Christian parents who were part of what was called the “Nonconformists”.   At the time, the Anglican church put great pressure on everyone to conform to their order of worship.   But the “nonconformists” believed that each church should have the freedom to worship God according to the Scriptures – not the Anglican system.   Isaac’s father was actually put in prison for his beliefs and would be in and out of prison or in exile for the rest of Isaac’s life.


            When he was 16 years old, on the way home from church one day, he complained to his father that he didn’t like the hymns in church.   In fact, he felt like the congregation just sang the psalms with “dull indifference, and negligent and thoughtless air”.   So, his father said, “Well then, young man, why don’t you give us something better to sing?”  So, he did.   The following week, he wrote his first hymn called “Behold the Glories of the Lamb” and presented it to the church, which loved it.   That began his career in writing hymns.


            In the early 1700’s, Isaac became the pastor of an independent church in London, where he continued to write hymns...600 of them in fact! One of his first ones was a song we are familiar with, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, in 1707 and “O God Our Help in Ages Past” in 1708.


            Isaac started writing hymns that took many of the psalms from the Bible and paraphrased them – adding a Christian message to them.   And that is exactly what he did in 1719, when he took Psalm 98 and wrote the hymn “Joy to the World.”1   This year marks the 300th year anniversary of this great hymn of faith.   All throughout the month of December – during our season of Advent – we are going to be celebrating the joy we know in the Lord…even in the midst of difficult circumstances.


            I invite you to turn to Psalm 98 right now – in the middle of the Bible.   What is interesting as you look at this psalm – if you are like me – you might just be a little confused.   It really doesn’t remind me of the hymn “Joy to the World” … and it doesn’t remind me of Christmas at all.   There is no mention of shepherds or wise men or angels.   But we will see a message of rejoicing in what God has done for us – and a call for all of heaven and nature to sing a song of joy to the Lord.   And the hope that one day He will come and judge the earth and make all things right.


            Today, let’s read it together from the screen.  The men can start it off by reading the first verse together.   And then the women can read the 2nd verse together.   Just watch the screen and you’ll know when you are supposed to read.   Now – be sure and read with great enthusiasm this psalm of joy!


Sing a new song to the Lord,
    for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
    his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

Shout to the Lord, all the earth;
    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.
    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!

Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!
    Let the earth and all living things join in.
Let the rivers clap their hands in glee!
    Let the hills sing out their songs of joy
before the Lord,
    for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with justice,
    and the nations with fairness.


            We are to rejoice – for the salvation that God has given.  God has

remembered His love and His faithfulness!


            We have joy – because God sent Jesus into the world to be our Savior.


            We have joy – because Jesus is a good and righteous King over all the earth and one day, He will judge all sin and make all things right again.   Even all of creation will be freed from the curse of sin and all heaven and nature will sing and rejoice!


            This is the great joy we have – and a great hope! 


            This kind of joy and hope we clearly see throughout the whole Christmas story.    In our second Scripture reading for today, we hear how Mary, the mother of Jesus, goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, just after hearing the news that she was going to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah.   Elizabeth is pregnant as well, in her old age, with her son John.   Let’s read what happens when the two women meet each other:

39 A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town 40 where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41 At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

42 Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed. 43 Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”


Joy!   Pure joy sent from the Holy Spirit…filled with hope for the birth of the Savior!  Mary burst out into singing after this greeting from Elizabeth.  And it sounds a lot like Psalm 98 in a way:   My soul praises the Lord and rejoices in God my Savior!   He mighty arm has done tremendous things!  He has remembered to be merciful and fulfilled the promises He gave to Abraham and his descendants.


            Joy!   Joy to the world the Lord has come!  Because of this deep joy of the gift of Jesus – we can know hope!   Hope in God’s promises – hope in God’s love and mercy – hope for a future. 


            This is the message we need for Advent and Christmas!   It’s a message that needs to go out to a world that seems to be losing hope – and doesn’t know the real meaning of Christmas.  It is a message the we need to be sharing with others who are struggling and hurting.  It’s a message we need to remind ourselves frequently.


There are all sorts of things that happen in our lives that can threaten to rob our lives of joy and of hope.   Struggles within our families, financial worries, failing health, disagreements with family or friends, the stress and strain of work – the list really is endless and is specific and unique to each individual.   Jesus Himself told us that “here on this earth we would have many trials and sorrow.   BUT we are to take heart and be of good cheer – because He has overcome the world.”.


The greatest gift of Christmas is Jesus who is Emmanuel – “God with Us”.   Because of the Emmanuel - we can have this solid bedrock, strong conviction: We are never without hope when Jesus is near!   Because there is nothing that can ever separate us from His presence – we can never be without hope – and joy.   God and you are in this together.  Nothing can happen that God and you together cannot manage.  That is an assurance of hope that will get us through any day and any circumstance in life.


Chuck Swindoll has written, “Hope is a wonderful gift from God, a source of strength and courage in the face of life’s harshest trials.” He adds, “When we are overworked and exhausted, hope gives us fresh energy. When we are discouraged, hope lifts our spirits. When we are tempted to quit, hope keeps us going.”2


Hope helps us hang on, especially at times when we feel we’re at the end of our rope. When the world around us is shattered by death, disaster or disease, we can still have hope! For there is no situation that can be hopeless, while there is the grace of Jesus and the power of God present in the world.

This kind of hope cannot come from within us. Our hope must come from Christ living in us. Romans 15:13 says, “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.”   It is by keeping our eyes on Christ – and being open to the filling of the Holy Spirit, that we can have that joy and abound in hope! 


In Romans 12:12, the Apostle Paul tells describes three ways we are to live above our circumstances – no matter what we are facing.   He says:   “Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, faithful in prayer.”   We cannot just give in to the struggles of life and live as broken people who have no hope.   No – we must continually fight for joy by looking to Jesus and persevering during those painful times.  By standing on the word of God and keeping our heart focused in prayer.


This Advent season – we are going to be doing just that.   We will focus on that Joy that God gives us and we are going to strive to put joy into every day of Advent.    Our deacons are going to pass out to you now an Advent calendar3 that I challenge you to use for the next 5 weeks.   I challenge you to find a way to put joy into your every day – no matter what is happening.   These are just simple suggestions that you can use to infuse your life with joy over the next 36 days.   And each week, you are asked to infuse your spirit with some Bible readings that are listed at the bottom of the Advent calendar – and also in our Advent devotional book, “Written in the Stars”.   Be sure and raise your hand if you don’t have one of these books, and our deacons will get you that as well.


As we enter into Advent and prepare for Christmas, be attentive for God has in store for you.   Slow down.   Stop.   Choose Joy.  Dare to hope and believe.   Hang on to hope and choose joy!


Will you join me in a closing Advent prayer:

Our dearest Lord and Father,

Help me to hear Your voice.   Touch me once again.

Give me the courage to choose joy, even when the way is hard.

Help me to look up and find hope that you are with me always.

Come in – and be born in me again.  

In Jesus’ name, AMEN4






1Ray Fowler, Joy to the World! – Psalm 98 http://www.rayfowler.org/sermons/joy-to-the-world-psalm-98/


2Jan White, “When All Seems Lost, Hold On to Hope in God”,  https://www.andalusiastarnews.com/2018/07/28/when-all-seems-lost-hold-on-to-hope-in-god/



3Lorin Razdik, in Facebook page for the Heaven and Nature Sing: “ Ideas for the calendar are from me/crowdsourced from members of Young Clergywomen International and the calendar design was by Kira Cimino Holchin.”


4Prayer adapted from a Crosswalk Editorial Staff, “12 Advent Prayers – Reflect on Jesus!”,

Crosswalk.com. https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/prayer/12-advent-prayers.html