Last week, I promised to start posting Christmas hymns as the days move on toward Christmas. However, (spoiler alert!) the hymn of the day today is not really a Christmas hymn. Sorry if I just ruined Christmas for you forever, but it is true.

Joy to the World, written by the famous hymn-writer Isaac Watts, was never intended to be a Christmas hymn! *GASP!!!* So, let me explain why this wasn’t intended to be a Christmas hymn, yet has been recognized for a long time as a classic Christmas carol.

First of all, when Watts wrote this hymn he was paraphrasing the last half of Psalm 98:

Psalm 98:4–9 (ESV)

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,

with the lyre and the sound of melody!

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

the world and those who dwell in it!

Let the rivers clap their hands;

let the hills sing for joy together

before the Lord, for he comes

to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness,

and the peoples with equity.

When Watts wrote many of his hymns as paraphrases of the Psalms and when he did they usually had a Christological lens, meaning he saw many references to Jesus Christ in the words of the Psalms. So, in Joy to the World, Isaac Watts interpreted Psalm 98 as a reference to Christ’s second coming.

Many authors, writers, and bloggers have already written on this hymn, so I will just briefly summarize what they have written! If you are interested in a fantastic article on Joy to the World, you can view this link: Joy to the World

The lyrics of Joy to the World seem odd to be placed in the context of Christ’s birth. For example, stanza one reads:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

What is odd about this stanza if it were speaking of Christ’s birth is that it isn’t really true. While Christ is the King of everything seen and unseen, he was not received as a King during his time on earth. Yes, there are many instances where he was treated like a King, but those instances didn’t last long. In fact, we read many times where he was rejected even by his own people. Isaiah prophesied that he would be a man of sorrows despised and rejected by men!

The third stanza also provides some questions.

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.

While Christ did come to die for our sin and defeat its power, has sin been completely eradicated from the earth? I’m not saying Christ’s death was ineffective. Rather, do we live in a world yet were sin no longer plagues, sorrow is no more, the earth is once again easy to work, and everything is perfect? The answer is no! It’s an already but not yet type of thing for the Christian. We have victory over sin with Christ, but we wait for a day when all things will be made right. We wait for new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13). One day, Christ will come back and sin will be evicted from this place!

The last stanza, I think is a clear indicator that this is a hymn about the second coming.

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.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the world is not abounding in truth, grace, peace, or proving God’s righteousness. The nations are still raging against each other, people are evil, and lies pervert every corner of life. In a way, the world is like the people at the tower of Babel, they all are trying to make a name for themselves, rather than make a name for God. Yet, there will be a day when the LORD’s promise to Christ in Psalm 110:1 comes true. Christ will return and make his enemies his footstool. Christ will return and every knee will bow and tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

So, why do we sing this song at Christmas time? Well, I’d like to argue that Christmas isn’t all about looking at what God has faithfully done in the past, but it is also a time to look forward to what God has promised he will faithfully do. When we sing Joy to the World during Advent season, we remember what God has done for us in the past by sending his Son into the world as a babe and he eventually died for our sins. But, as we sing Joy to the World, we also look to the future when God will fulfill his perfect plan and Christ will come again to make all things new.

Here is some Pentatonix to lighten your day:

And as always, the sheet music to Joy the World:

Joy to the World.jpg

6 thoughts on “Hymn of the Day: Joy to the World

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