When Singing “Joy to the World” Feels Too Hard

by Elizabeth Trotter on December 20, 2015

Joy to the World1

Sadness has found me this Christmas season. I bear sadness over the brokenness in the world, and I bear sadness over the brokenness in my own life. So I mourn. And I grieve. Then, as I am currently in the United States for a short visit, I look around at America’s intensely commercialized version of Christmas, and I wish I could ignore it altogether.

That’s why this week, in an effort to fight my Scrooginess, I set aside time to bake Christmas cookies with my mom and my daughters. It’s why I pulled out the scissors and construction paper to make Christmas crafts. And it’s why I sat down at the piano to play Christmas carols. I knew I needed to ground myself in some ancient theology and lose myself in some minor keys.

Because I couldn’t play “Joy to the World.” Not now, not yet. It’s always been one of my favorites, but it’s too happy right now. It’s too early for glory and joy, too soon for triumph and victory. I’d love to get to these words from Isaac Watts:

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.

But I’m not ready for them yet. I know the promise; I feel the promise. But right now, the promise feels more true than the fruition. The longing feels more true than the fulfillment. I am absolutely in love with Jesus, but I’m not ready for triumphant words and joyful melodies. I’ve been sticking to the sad-sounding songs instead.

I did manage “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” because I love the fullness of the Gospel story in Charles Wesley’s second and third verses. But more often, I was drawn to the minor-sounding songs, to the lamentations of the Christmas canon. I sat awhile with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” But over and over again, the songs I returned to were “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” for the ache of its fourth verse, and “What Child is This?” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” for their collective sadness.

In some mysterious way I draw hope from their minor keys. Somehow I feel comfort in their mourning. So in between cookie dough and paper stars, I headed to the piano to sing little encapsulations of the Gospel, to pour out my sadness upon the ivory. My husband picked up on my feelings and asked me if the songs were making me sad. But I told him no, these songs aren’t making me sad; they’re speaking my sadness.

Much like my liturgical friends suppress their alleluias during Lent, I’m suppressing my joy this Advent. I’m waiting for happy-happy Christmas, waiting for “Joy to the World.” I’m waiting for the termination of thorns and the death of the curse. I’m waiting for the wonders of His love and the absolute reign of His truth and grace.

So if you, like me, feel like suppressing your joy this Christmas season, it’s ok. Truly, it is. Because we’re actually still waiting — for the return of our King and the fullness of His joy. And it’s ok if, when you join your voice with others this next week, the song “Joy to the World” makes you sad rather than glad. It’s ok if it makes you cry. It’s even ok if you refuse to sing it.

We can make space at the table for sadness this Christmas. We can settle our souls on the minor keys. We can open our hearts to the Promise and wait for the complete reign of our Savior. We can employ a song not of total sadness, but of delayed joy. And right next to the seat of grief and lament in our hearts, we can prepare Him room.

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About Elizabeth Trotter

Elizabeth loves life in Southeast Asia, something she never imagined was possible. Before moving to Asia with her husband and four children in 2012, Elizabeth worked in youth ministry for ten years. She loves math, science, all things Jane Austen, and eating hummus by the spoonful. Find her on the web at www.trotters41.com and on Facebook at trotters41.

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