7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together 9 before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Psalm 98:7-9)
What is, or are, your favorite Christmas Carols. Without a doubt, the Christmas Season is dominated by holiday music: both sacred and secular. However, we will focus our attention on traditional carols and hymns which address the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In particular, let’s focus upon what I refer to as the Big Three Christmas Carols. These include Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. When were they written and by whom? Let’s briefly examine each one.
“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts. Watts was an English Christian minister, hymn writer, theologian, and logician. He was a prolific and popular hymn writer and is credited with some 750 hymns. He is recognized as the “Godfather of English Hymnody.” Many of his hymns remain in use today and have been translated into numerous languages.
As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. According to the Dictionary of North American Hymnology, Joy to the World was published in 1,387 hymnals in North America before 1979. Hymnarry.org cites the Christmas carol as one of the Top 20 Christmas hymns.
The words of the hymn are taken from Psalm 98, 96:11–12 and Genesis 3:17–18. The carol was first published in 1719 in Watts’ collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship.
As one author explains, “In stanzas 1 and 2 Watts writes of heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King. An interlude that depends more on Watts’ interpretation than the psalm text, stanza 3 speaks of Christ’s blessings extending victoriously over the realm of sin. The cheerful repetition of the non-psalm phrase “far as the curse is found” has caused this stanza to be omitted from some hymnals. But the line makes joyful sense when understood from the New Testament eyes through which Watts interprets the psalm. Stanza 4 celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.” The nations are called to celebrate because God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the world.”
The music most associated with Watts’ lyrics is from the edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848). It was his fourth revision of the tune he named ANTIOCH and attributed as “arranged from Handel.”
Joy to the World is often found on many recording artist’s Christmas albums. These include such notables as Andy Williams, The Supremes, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Cash, Nat King Cole, Walter Cherry, Neil Diamond, Pat Boone, Perry Como, Vic Damone, Mariah Carey, and acapella group Pentatonix.
The lyrics are as follows.
Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
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.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!