1350) Joy to the World

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   A young teenager once complained to his father, a minister, that most of the hymns they sang in church were boring to him because they were too far behind the times.  His father put an end to his son’s complaints by saying, “If you think you can write better hymns, then let’s see you try.”  The boy was a brilliant student and enjoyed challenges, so he decided he would attempt it.  Looking through his Bible for ideas, he read Revelations 5:9 which said, “And they sang a new song.”  That settled it for him.  He would try writing some new songs, starting with one based on that verse.  He wrote out some words, found a melody to go with it, and his father introduced it to the congregation the very next Sunday.  The people liked it so much they asked for another one the next Sunday, and then the Sunday after that, and so on.  For 222 consecutive weeks that teen-age boy wrote a new hymn for Sunday worship.  

     The hymn-writing began in the year 1689, and that teenager was Isaac Watts.  He continued to write hymns throughout his life.  He wrote over 750 hymns, many of which by now have become old and stale, just like the music the young Isaac objected to.  Tastes do change over the years.  But many of Watts’ hymns remain popular and are still used today, such as “Jesus Shall Reign,” “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”  He has been recognized as the “Father of English Hymnody.”  

     Later in life Watts turned to another task, metrical translations of the Psalms with a distinctly Christian perspective.  At the age of 45, he sat under a favorite tree on the estate where he lived and penned the now famous words of “Joy to the World.”  His 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament, included the words under his original title for the poetry: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

     As part of his effort to bring New Testament meanings to the Old Testament psalms, Watts based “Joy to the World” on the last half of Psalm 98: “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth… Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth” (vs. 4, 8).

     Psalm 98 celebrates God’s protection and restoration of his chosen people.  Watts’ carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man.  Both the psalm and the hymn also look ahead, to Christ coming again to reign: “He will judge the world with righteousness” (v. 9).

     “Joy to the World” includes references to other Bible verses as well, including Gen. 3:17, Rom. 5:20, and Luke 2:10.  And despite its lack of reference to Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, or the manger, it has become one of the most loved Christmas carols.  As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.



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.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.

Genesis 3:17  —  To Adam God said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  (see verse three of “Joy to the World”)

Luke 2:10  —   And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”



Text:  Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

1. 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 nature sing.

2. Joy to the world, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ;
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy.

3. 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 the curse is found.

4. 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 of his love.


Watts wanted to bring hymns up to date, so I think he would approve of this up-to-date version of his famous hymns by a cappella group Pentatonix: