Posted by: rcottrill | November 12, 2014

How Great Our Joy

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Words: Traditional 17th century German carol, translated by Theodore Baker (b. June 3, 1851; d. Oct. 13, 1934)
Music: Traditional German tune, arranged by Hugo Richard Jüngst (b. Feb. 26, 1853; d. Mar. 3, 1923)

Wordwise Hymns (Theodore Baker)
The Cyber Hymnal

Note: This Christmas carol sometimes goes by the name While by the Sheep (or While by Our Sheep). In his book Amazing Grace (p. 378), Ken Osbeck offers a different closing line to CH-4 that I believe has merit: “Jesus, our Lord Emmanuel.” That clearly identifies who the Baby is–and it rhymes with “well,” which the word “fill” does not.

This is a carol of effervescent and exuberant joy, as suggested by the six-fold repetition of that word in the refrain.

Words such as “joy” and “rejoice” are found in the Bible over four hundred times. It’s hardly surprising that this divinely tuned gladness of heart is often associated with the coming of Christ, and with His salvation.

When a heavenly messenger appeared to some shepherds near Bethlehem, “The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Lk. 2:10-11).

CH-1) While by the sheep we watched at night,
Glad tidings brought an angel bright.

How great our joy! Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

For the wise men who journeyed to find the newborn King, the Lord provided a star to guide them. “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him” (Matt. 2:10-11).

The death of Christ was a day of fear and dark despair for His followers, but it was soon to give way to an occasion for great rejoicing. Visiting His tomb, some women were confronted by an angelic being who announced:

“‘He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead’….So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, ‘Rejoice!’ So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him.” (Matt. 28:6, 8-9).

Even the Lord’s ascension back into heaven, though it meant the loss of His physical presence, did not dim their joy. “He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Lk. 24:51-52).

For the Christian, there is cause for rejoicing in Christ. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4; cf. Acts 13:52; 15:3; Rom. 14:17; Gal. 5:22; I Pet. 1:8). There is also joy in the ministry of the gospel. After Pentecost, “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them,” a ministry that was accompanied by powerful miracles. The people of that city responded to the message and “there was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:5, 8; cf. Acts 20:24; I Thess. 2:19-20).

There is a problem with the verb tenses of CH-2 and 3. The angel’s announcement is made to predict the birth of the Saviour as something coming up ahead. But in Scripture the news is of an event that has already happened (Lk. 2:11). Instead of “there shall be born,” “There has been born would be better. And instead of “There shall the Child lie,” “There is a Child laid…” would be more precise. But beyond that, it is plain that the message of Christmas is a message of joy!

CH-2) There shall be born, so He did say,
In Bethlehem a Child today.

How great our joy! Great our joy!
Joy, joy, joy! Joy, joy, joy!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!
Praise we the Lord in heaven on high!

CH-3) There shall the Child lie in a stall,
This Child who shall redeem us all.

CH-4) This gift of God we’ll cherish well,
That ever joy our hearts shall fill.

1) What are some of the reasons we rejoice in Christ’s coming?

2) What are some reasons we rejoice in serving Him?

Wordwise Hymns (Theodore Baker)
The Cyber Hymnal


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