“Joy, O joy, beyond all gladness!
Christ has done away with sadness.
Hence, all sorrow and repining,
For the sun of grace is shining.”
Very few people sing this hope-filled chorus from Hymn 32 in our Lutheran Hymnal. I first came across this hymn way back in 1980 when Professor/Choir Director Dr Friedemann Hebart had the Adelaide Luther Seminary Students Choir sing his own musical version.
At the time, my soul was captured by that first line of this hymn, which was designed to elevate the message of the Angel to the Bethlehem Shepherds. “Joy, O Joy beyond all gladness!”
Deep down we know there is a difference between happiness or gladness, and joy. We know that in our English language, happiness is something that is usually momentary or emotional or sensory. We think of joy as something different. We think of joy as deep and lasting and sustaining. We can know joy even though we might not be feeling all that happy.
At Bethlehem, the Angel proclaims a “GREAT joy” in the birth of Jesus the Christ. This takes up all we know about the distinguishing features of “joy” over and against “happiness” and multiplies that special meaning of joy to be “great joy.”
This “great joy” motivated the shepherds to hurry to Bethlehem to see “this thing which the Lord had made known …”. They arrived at the manger and brought their praise and worship to their incarnate Lord, Jesus.
This great joy motivates us to a new year as hopeful people although things in the world may not be making us all that happy about things.
This great joy is explained in the last line of the chorus of Hymn 32 that I learned back in my seminary days, “for the sun of grace is shining.” This phrase “sun of grace” points to the appearing of Jesus Christ as the one promised in Malachi 4:1-2. Malachi prophesies of the one who would come as a “sun of righteousness”. Like a beautiful bright morning sunrise, warming the earth, Jesus comes to bring us peace with God by making us righteous through his death on the cross. The chorus of Hymn 32 interprets this as “sun of grace.” The work of the cross is pure grace. So like the Shepherds at Bethlehem, we are motivated by this wonderful news that God has come to us, graciously. God comes to us before we ever might step towards God.
So with this hope and trust in God’s grace, we draw near to God in prayer, in praise and in thanksgiving for all that we have received, including what we have received during this past year of pandemic.
I cherish that middle line in that chorus of Hymn 32 “Hence all sorrow and repining”. It actually means “go away” all sorrow and repining. This is not intended to denigrate the important journey we travel through grief and sorrow, particularly as is the case when a loved one dies. Rather the expression “Hence all sorrow and repining” is a call to put aside every weight and sin that clings to us and to follow where our Good Shepherd leads us, knowing that the journey and destination is always “great joy.”
I pray that you would have time to pause in this Christmas season, to consider the gift of great joy that is given in the coming of Christ Jesus into our world. I pray that this joy would sustain you and your loved ones as we conclude 2020 and step faithfully with joy, into the new year.
“But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 2:2)