Joy to the world!

A Christmas Carol that is actually not that Christmassy

Joy to the world

You know Christmas is near when the hearty singing of carols becomes impossible to ignore. Whether you are a fan of carols or you cringe when you hear another version of We Wish You a Merry Christmas, the time has come to dust off those Christmas CDs and warm up your vocal chords.

Among the favourites is Joy to the World but, interestingly, this popular song was not actually intended to be a Christmas Carol.

The song's composer Isaac Watts was a 17th century English hymn writer who thought church music was "boring". Encouraged by his father to write something better, Isaac began writing songs inspired by The Bible's book of Psalms, one of which was When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

Joy to the World was published in 1719, as an imitation of Psalm chapter 98 verses 4 to 6, which reads:
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.

Notice how, unlike other carols such as Away in a Manger, We Three Kings or Oh Come All Ye Faithful, this hymn has no mention of shepherds, angels, wise men, or a baby in a manger. Isaac wrote the song to express the great joy that Christ's birth brought to humanity, the salvation of God that came from His life, death and resurrection on earth, and the even greater joy His return to earth will bring.

In 1839, Lowell Mason adapted the hymn, arranging it into the melody we know and sing today. Yet the initial message of the song remains.

So whether you sing Joy to the World at Christmas or at any other time of the year, think about what it is really celebrating. Not just the birth of Jesus, but also how He came to give us eternal life and the unimaginable joy that will come when the promise of His return is fulfilled!


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.

<< Comedian’s journey through pain to joy
Life after delivery...? >>