Music Monday: Joy to The World


Cookies, hot chocolate, twinkle lights, family, and most important… PRESENTS of course!  Kidding!!!  Don’t label me a heretic yet.  Of course the most important, most exciting, most incredible thing about Christmas is that we get celebrate the most important thing that ever happened: Immanuel, God with us.  The birth of Jesus Christ.  When you stop and think about it, it’s very hard to put the magnitude of such an event into words.  But, that didn’t stop believers from trying.

Christmas music is really great, isn’t it?  It just isn’t Christmas without it, in my opinion.  One of the great testaments to the usefulness of music for the glory of God is the effect Christmas music has on our Godless culture.  How many times have you walked into a grocery store and heard them playing “How Great Thou Art” or “Be Thou My Vision”?  But you know you’re going to hear “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” while Christmas shopping, don’t you?  Isn’t that great?

This Christmas Season, we’ll use Music Monday to examine some of the favorite and best known Christmas Carols.  Today’s song is Joy to the World.

Joy to the World was written by one of Christianity’s most prolific hymn writers, Issac Watts.  Born in 1674, Watts was a borderline genius learning Hebrew, Greek, and Latin before leaving Grammar School.  He loved poetry and verse as a young man and wrote a majority of his hymns during those years, including many of the most beloved in hymns in all of Christianity.  You probably know him for songs like “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross“, “Jesus Shall Reign“, and the incredibly beautiful “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past“.

Arguably, his most famous is our Hymn today, “Joy to the World”.  The lyrics are based off of Psalm 98.

[1] A Psalm.O sing to the LORD a new song,For He has done wonderful things,His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. [2] The LORD has made known His salvation;He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations. [3] He has remembered His lovingkindness and His faithfulness to the house of Israel;All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. [4] Shout joyfully to the LORD, all the earth;Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises. [5] Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,With the lyre and the sound of melody. [6] With trumpets and the sound of the hornShout joyfully before the King, the LORD. [7] Let the sea roar and all it contains,The world and those who dwell in it. [8] Let the rivers clap their hands,Let the mountains sing together for joy [9] Before the LORD, for He is coming to judge the earth;He will judge the world with righteousnessAnd the peoples with equity. {Psa 98:1-9 NASB}

Before we look at the lyrics, it is worth mentioning that the music was by George Frideric Handel, composer of Messiah.  Although it ought to be noted that there’s no real proof that Handel worked with Watts, and that the tune often goes unattributed.  The reason Handel often comes up as the composer is because of it’s similarity to a part of Messiah.  Nonetheless, because the song is so beautiful, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Handel actually had a large part of it.

But let’s face facts, the reason this song is great is because of the magnificent lyrics.  Just look at verse 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 Heaven, and nature sing.

Here we see one of the threads woven throughout the entire song: the sovereignty of God.  Watts calls Jesus Lord.  He emphasises that He is King over all the earth.  Most importantly, he ties in all of creation in every aspect by calling “every heart” to make room for Christ while reminding us that both Heaven and creation sing His praises.

Verse 2:

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.

Just makes you want to sing, doesn’t it?  Our Savior reigns!  Hallelujah, right?  And that’s the point, I think.  Watts knows what a hymn is for… to encourage people to sing.  It’s one of the reasons hymns are an important part of our worship.  Watts draws on this idea to show that the songs men employ are joined with the constant praise of creation for its Creator; songs that are born out of Joy at the reign of our Savior.

Verse 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, far as, the curse is found.

Watts moves to the results of the reign of the Savior in this verse.  The progress of the dark and fallen world is stopped.  The curse is lifted.  He comes to His elect to bless them, and there is nowhere in the universe where sin once held control that the Savior will not reign.

Verse 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, wonders, of His love.

The reign of Christ is going to be magnificent.  No longer will rulers be corrupt and in need of checks and balances.  No longer will people languish under cruelty.  No, instead the perfect Savior will rule in truth and grace.  He’ll rule over all of the nations which will prove the “glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love”.  In other words, every land will show His righteousness and how wonderful it is.  Every nation will be full of people who have no business being in the presence of God, but because of His love stand justified and glorified in Him.  What a tremendous picture!

This is not “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” or “Away in a Manger”, and by that I mean that there isn’t any obvious Christmas imagery here.  Yet, I think this song is appropriate to sing at the celebration of Immanuel because it rightly draws on the themes of who Christ is as our glorious King.  One of the great aspects of Christmas is to ponder precisely how such a great God could humble Himself to not only be a man, but moreover a helpless baby in the most humble of circumstances.  We must be reminded that our Savior did not remain in that manger forever, and He will not ever return to the manger again.   He will come again, not as an infant and laid in a manger, but as king to rule the world with truth and grace.

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