The story of Christmas not only has nearly universal appeal, but it also points to an event that has universal significance—the coming of Jesus. The world is no longer the same, because Jesus has come. You and I are no longer the same, because Jesus has come.
Isn’t it amazing: the same one who comes to change the whole world—the whole structure of everything—is also the one who has his eye on your heart and my heart in all our particularity and individuality.
Two Christmas carols serve as reminders of this, especially when we set them side-by-side. “Joy to the World” is a triumphant reminder of the first truth, that Jesus changes the world. “O Little Town of Bethlehem” offers a healthy counter-balance: Jesus not only changes the world but he changes our hearts
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
The Jesus who came at Christmas is the world’s true king, not a mere personal spiritual guru. The apostle Paul wrote that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The world. The impact of Jesus Christ is enormous. He has changed everything. God’s purpose, as we read it in Ephesians 1:10, is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and earth under Christ.”
Because of Jesus Christ, our world is no longer the same. It isn’t the dark place it was because of sin. As John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prayed, Jesus came “to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79). The curse that came after we sinned in the garden has found its cure in the coming of Christ:
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.
This universal significance of Jesus still needs to meet the welcome of human hearts. We need to open our lives up to him. Will we reject him—either by outright denial or by ignoring him or taking him for granted—or will we open our whole lives to his rule?
This is the theme of the great carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In contrast to “Joy to the World,” this carol focuses not on the whole universe, but on one small town. Again in contrast to “Joy to the World,” this carol focuses not on the cosmic significance of Jesus’ coming, but on each human heart.
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.
That last phrase is a reminder of how humbling an experience it is to meet Christ. To see him as the Saviour is to accept that we are in need of salvation. Seeing his death as an offering for sin means seeing ourselves as sinners. Accepting him for who he is means accepting the true judgment about who we are. But the call remains as true today as ever because of his grace, the grace that is always pointed in our direction: “Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.”