‘Joy to the World’ — A Subversive Christian Nationalist Anthem?

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“Each Christmastime, we do not celebrate the incarnation of liberal pluralism, or viewpoint neutrality, or the ACLU’s warped interpretation of church and state. We celebrate the bold declaration that the Word became flesh to dwell among us, and that all of creation — Heaven and nature sing! — is to rejoice at the birth of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, of whose government there will be no end.”

JASON MATTERA

Before I answer the question posed in the title, let’s take a step back and survey the field as it pertains to Christian political activism in our nation.

On the one hand, we have a raging secular media that cannot stomach conservative Christians attempting to influence politics and culture. Christians in these spaces are routinely branded as Christian nationalists by the establishment media for approaching policy debates from the conviction of Scripture. Liberal Christians, meanwhile, aren’t given similar “scary” monikers by the press when they engage in progressive politicking, as we witnessed recently with Raphael Warnock’s successful re-election bid to the U.S. Senate. Black pastors went all-in in on Warnock’s campaign, and yet such church-led promotion of his candidacy was never once tagged as a budding theocracy. 

On the other hand, conservative Christians also face incoming fire from inside the evangelical tent, particularly from purported intellectuals who scoff at believers seeking to impact the civic character of the United States using biblical precepts. Appeasing left-wing causes and constituencies has become far more important in these circles than standing firm on God’s moral code for mankind.   

Take the issue of “same-sex” marriage, for instance.

A great deal of ink has been spilled by evangelical “thought leaders” lately in making the case that the “Respect for Marriage Act” was admirable law because it harmonized our country’s divergent “worldviews” and therefore was a “win for the common good.” To them, liberal “pluralism” is America’s governing lodestar, and although Christians can observe “holy matrimony” in a church setting, we must not work to recapture that standard — God’s standard — for the American family outside of the local congregation.

You’re not a Christian nationalist, are you?

In this sense, we have an “unholy alliance” between the country’s secular media and our evangelical “elites,” both of whom are committed to neutralizing biblical principles from shaping the ethos of our land. These two groups may not express this sentiment so bluntly, but when it comes down to it, they are both devoted to a form of “public atheism,” where the God of the Bible is relegated to a sliver of the human experience. God may get a seat at the table, but in no way is He considered the owner of the table.

Put another way, this Christ is lord over the Church… but nothing more.

This is the challenging environment we find ourselves in today, encountering hostilities from both Christians and non-Christians alike.

The incoming fire from the outside is expected. Man is marred by sin, which means he is constantly seeking new ways to rebel against his Maker.

The incoming fire from within, however, is frustrating. It makes you want to grab these evangelical smarty-pants by their sweater vests and say, “Whose side are you on, bruh?”

Okay, the “bruh” part is the Brooklyn in me writing, but you get the point.

The evangelical efforts in some quarters to undermine biblical engagement in the public square is inexcusable, especially at a time where the folly of secularism is on full display.

Rather than grab these dudes by their sweater vests, how about we force them to sit down and listen closely to the words of an English classic that surely is not unknown to them:

“Joy to the World.”

You may have heard of it?

The same evangelical cabal that regularly tag-teams with liberal secularists to body slam everyday believers for organizing their lives, including their politics, from the baseline of “In the beginning God” must have overlooked the actual words that hymnist Isaac Watts penned in 1719, and which later became one of the most acclaimed Christmas carols of all time.

Let’s go through parts of the first, second, and fourth stanzas, shall we?

Joy to the world, the Lord is come; 
Let earth receive her King! 
Let every heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing! 
And heaven and nature sing! 
And heaven . . . and heaven . . . and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! 
Let men their songs employ 
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, 
Repeat the sounding joy!

Repeat the sounding joy! 
Repeat . . . repeat . . . the sounding joy!

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!

Catch the italicized portions?

Let Earth receive her King; the Savior reigns, and He rules the world with truth and grace.

Each Christmastime, we do not celebrate the incarnation of liberal pluralism, or viewpoint neutrality, or the ACLU’s warped interpretation of church and state. We celebrate the bold declaration that the Word became flesh to dwell among us, and that all of creation — Heaven and nature sing! — is to rejoice at the birth of our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, of whose government there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Repeat the sounding joy!

What’s interesting is that Watts himself never envisioned “Joy to the World” to be sung as a “Christmas carol,” or any carol really. It wasn’t even about Christ’s birth. Rather, the “poem” was reportedly first written to reflect the core message of Psalm 98, which he understood as a “celebration of Jesus’s role as King of both his church and the whole world,” and only later developed into the popular hymn we sing today after the composition was put to music.

Which brings us back to the evangelical side of the “unholy alliance.”

Here we have “brethren” who have been singing “Joy to the World” since they were in short pants, yet ardently maintain that Christians need to check their faith at the door before trying to guide the trajectory of American politics and culture.

It’s as if civil magistrates are exempt from following God’s commands. They are not exempt, of course.  

As theologian Dr. Jim Garlow likes to say, God “did not write ‘the book,’ and then say, ‘Oh wow, I forgot about the whole government thing!’”

So, going back to the opening question: Is “Joy to the World” a subversive Christian nationalist anthem?

Well, no. It’s far more, ahem, “subversive” than that.

It’s an exclamation point that all people — from every tongue, tribe, and nation — are under the domain of Christ’s sovereignty and are thus accountable to Him.

Including America.

Let every heart prepare Him room!


Follow Jason on Twitter! @JasonMattera

Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.