THE STORY OF MOSES – Exodus 12:3, 6, 11–13 – Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers’ houses, a lamb for a household. … and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight …
In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD’s Passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
Musically speaking, “Joy to the World” is one of the simplest Christmas carols out there. Even a beginner can plunk out the first notes on a piano: Start at a high C and just keep marching left. (Can you tell my piano knowledge is slim?)
“Joy to the World” is also one of the most buoyant Christmas carols. At first blush, it seems to fit our cultural celebration of Christmas as a time of happiness and good vibes. Joy! Cheer! Presents! Cookies!
But the third verse of “Joy to the World” reminds us that this song only exists because we live in a world characterized by the curse of sin, injustice, and death:
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.
Nowhere is the extent of that curse more pronounced than in the context leading up to the exodus. Hundreds of years after Joseph, injustice was rampant. God’s people had become slaves in Egypt. Even when God began to move in their midst, things got worse before they got better. Pharaoh, in his despotic fear, slaughtered every male Jewish child he could. And as Moses rose to confront Pharaoh, he only tightened his iron grip on the Jewish people.
The people of God, enslaved in Egypt, knew full well “how far the curse was found.” What they did not know was how God would overcome that curse.
1 “Joy to the World,” text by Isaac Watts (1719).
God chose to end their unjust slavery by visiting Egypt himself, executing judgment on the false gods. The measures God took to free his people—the ten plagues—prove not only the depth of this bondage but also the depth of God’s commitment to end injustice. God came to Egypt to replace the curse with blessing.
The people of God left Egypt liberated of their earthly oppressors. But God knew they would need liberating again. He knew that the curse of sin and injustice and death was not yet defeated. To defeat death would require a more personal presence than God visiting Egypt in judgment. It would require a greater sacrifice than a lamb.
It would require God not only punishing injustice, but personally suffering injustice so that his creation could be made whole again. This is why Jesus was born: He came to bear a curse so that those of us under a curse could be made free. To make his “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).
We do not sing of joy at Christmas because life is easy. We sing of joy because, in Christ, God has done something about the curse. He has done something about injustice. He has entered into our curse-ridden world to make his broken creation whole again.
To make his blessings known far as the curse is found.
Eternal God, who led your ancient people into freedom by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night: Grant that we who walk in the light of your presence may rejoice in the liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
2 The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church: Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David According to the Use of the Episcopal Church, “Order of Worship for the Evening, Easter Season” (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 111.