All Christmas carol lists include the high-spirited celebration song, “Joy to the World.” This lively hymn is easily memorized and simple to play and sing. But there is an interesting story behind this beloved hymn.
Isaac Watts (1674-1748), author of around 750 songs, is commonly known as “The Father of Hymns” due to his popularity as the first English hymn writer. A few of his most well-known songs still sung today include: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross; At the Cross; and the topic of today’s post, Joy to the World. Watts was a young man when hymns other than the Psalms were allowed to be sung in the Church of England. This permitted Watts to develop many beloved songs. Watts still based many of his songs on the Psalms, but he was especially interested in writing hymns of human experience. Joy to the World was written in 1719 and based on Psalm 98 which speaks of salvation for all peoples of the earth through His “Right Hand” Christ Jesus: Sing to the Lord a new song, for He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him…and reveled His righteousness to the nations…Shout for joy, to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music…Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord
If you notice the lyrics of the song, Joy to the World, you will see nothing about the Christmas story, as Watts did not write Joy to the World to be a Christmas carol. But joy is the keynote theme of Advent when God Himself invaded the world the first time. The original theme was the second coming of the Lord. Christmas isn’t always a joyful time, but when Jesus comes back, even the rocks will cry out!
More than 100 years later, in 1839, Lowell Mason adapted and arranged this song into a melody many believe to have been written by Handel. Who knows why this carol became associated with Christmas, except that He is come. Moreover, no Christmas story is complete without the reason for His coming, to die and be raised again on Easter. As you hear and sing this beloved carol this season, think about the words. Yes, they apply to the Christmas story in that the Lord has come! We should rejoice! May the lyrics point you to the reason Jesus came: to save the world. Be ready because He is coming again! What a glorious day that will be.
Joy to the World
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 world! the Saviour 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.