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Joy to the World

EDITOR’S NOTEAs the Christmas/Advent season is in full bloom, BaptistMessenger.com is sharing this article series by Keith Getty to help readers learn more about the great carols that are being sung this time of year. From Dec. 2 through Dec. 12, an article will be published each day. The Baptist Messenger hopes this series will enrich the holiday season for you, as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Joy to the World, one of the nation’s most popular carols, is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, and to celebrate we’ll be adding on a special verse at our Christmas concerts.

Written by Isaac Watts, an English minister and renowned father of English hymnody, it wasn’t originally intended to be a Christmas carol; it was meant to be sung all year round. Much of it is based on the Psalms, particularly Psalm 98:4, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”

Watts was a prolific songwriter and introduced a new way of rendering the Psalms for church services as an alternative to the more Presbyterian and Reformed singing of the Psalms. He was a Free Church man who wanted to sing the Psalms in light of Christ’s return. So, for example, the second verse is based on Psalm 33:

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

This carol is unusual in that the words do not simply focus on the joy we experience as we look back and celebrate the incarnation; they also encourage us to look forward, to discover the joy we can find by reflecting on our future hope, the second coming of Christ.

One of the reasons the song has become a Christmas classic is because the first verse announces the birth of Christ: “Joy to the World; the Lord is come!” What a wonderful proclamation!

And then, in the line, “let every heart prepare Him room,” we hear an echo of the innkeeper who had no room for Mary when labor was nearing (Luke 2:7). We rightly sing this lyric to our own hearts and to others’ as an invitation to prepare room in each of us for the Good News of the Savior’s birth.

The third verse is probably unfamiliar to many of us, perhaps for good reason, as the imagery of “the curse” doesn’t fit well with our inclusion of the song as part of our Christmas festivities.

“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”

But without the presence of the curse (Gen. 3:16-19), the promise of deliverance loses its power (Gen. 3:15). These lines point us to the day when God’s blessing (Gen. 3:17) flows “as far as the curse is found.”

In the final triumphant verse, we are reminded that while the sting of sin is great, there is a hope that is greater: Jesus Christ who rules the world with truth and grace. It is this grace that causes hearts dead in sin to come alive in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9). The final two lines of our hymn call us to continue marveling in: “The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love.”

No Christmas concert or Christmas eve service would be complete without it. It is an undeniably joy-filled declaration of God’s goodness.

O Come All Ye Faithful - Baptist Messenger of OklahomaTo get tickets for Sing! An Irish Christmas tour head over to: https://www.gettymusic.com/christmas

Author: Keith Getty

Keith and Kristyn Getty occupy a unique space in the world of music today as preeminent modern hymn writers. In re-inventing the traditional hymn form, they are creating and cultivating a catalogue of songs teaching Christian doctrine and crossing the genres of traditional, classical, folk and contemporary composition which are sung the world over. In 2017, Keith Getty was made an “Officer of the Order of the British Empire” (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his contribution to "music and modern hymn writing," marking the first time the award had been given to an individual involved in the world of contemporary church music.

View more articles by Keith Getty.

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