JOY TO THE WORLD written in 1719
When is a Christmas carol not really a Christmas carol? Maybe when it doesn’t actually focus on the birth of Christ. This “Christmas carol” is a good example…
Isaac Watts (1674-1748) based this hymn text on the last half of Psalm 98, which celebrates the coming of the Lord to judge the world in righteousness. In other words, it is intended to celebrate Christ’s second coming, not His first!
In that psalm, the psalmist calls on all creation to sing and shout for joy at the Lord’s coming. There is nothing in that psalm… or in Watts’ paraphrase… that specifically mentions the birth of Christ, just the Lord’s return in judgment.
This song was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection; The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. The tune’s origins are unclear. The name “Antioch” is generally used for the tune; it is often attributed to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) on the grounds of a ‘chance resemblance’ to choruses in the oratorio Messiah (premiered 1742). Other hymnals credit the tune to Lowell Mason (1792-1872), who introduced it to America (US) in 1836 as ‘arranged from Handel’.
As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.
So, should we stop singing this hymn at Christmas? No! This hymn celebrates God’s involvement with His people – and that work of God began in earnest in a stable in Bethlehem.
Read this hymn, and – today – celebrate with joy!
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.
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.