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History and Meaning of the Christmas Song "Joy to the World"

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

"Joy to the World" is as popular as any Christmas carol, but few know where it came from or what it means.

"Joy to the World" is as popular as any Christmas carol, but few know where it came from or what it means.

You probably know all the lyrics to "Joy to the World" because you and others around the world sing or hear the song during the Christmas season. However, most folks know it simply as a staple Christmas carol but have not learned about its history. When you sing "Joy to the World" this year, I hope you smile inside knowing more about the song than you did before.

Isaac Watts wrote "Joy to the World" as a part of a collection of hymns called "The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament."

Isaac Watts wrote "Joy to the World" as a part of a collection of hymns called "The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament."

Isaac Watts, Writer of "Joy to the World"

Isaac Watts, an English Christian minister, lived from 1674 to 1748. "Joy to the World" first appeared in his famous collection, The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Watts wrote "Joy to the World" to encourage the entire world to make a joyful noise about Jesus.

Even though most people are familiar with only "Joy to the World," Watts also penned around 750 additional hymns, earning himself the title, "Godfather of English Hymnody." He was a creative and popular hymn writer during his time.

Many of Watts' hymns are still sung today, and popular selections have been translated into many different languages. Countless popular artists have recorded the song in their own style.

Origin and Meaning of "Joy to the World"

This might shock you, but "Joy to the World" is not a Christmas song about Jesus' first coming. Instead, it is about His second coming. This popular hymn is not based on the Christmas stories in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, it was written based on a single verse from one of King David's most meaningful psalms. It is not about the coming Christ but rather the Christ who has already come.

Psalm 98:4 reads:

“Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.”

As you can see, the theme of the above verse is "joy." The words "joy" and "rejoice" appear twice. King David and Watts had the same idea—that all of the earth should make a joyful noise unto the Lord. That means all voices can sing praises—the song is not reserved only for those who have received awards for their melodious voices. It is for "all the earth."

"Joy to the World" has been translated into many different languages and is sung all over the world.

"Joy to the World" has been translated into many different languages and is sung all over the world.

Popularity of "Joy to the World"

"Joy to the World" is one of the most popular Christmas songs, and it is sung in churches and at holiday gatherings around the world.

The song is in the public domain, so when musicians sing, record, and release it, they do not have to purchase the rights to the song. Hundreds of artists know the song can be sung, remixed, and recorded because it is considered common content due to its age.

Lyrics of "Joy to the World"

The popular carol comprises four stanzas whose lyrics differ but also overlap.

Stanza 1

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.

Nine out of ten people sing the first line incorrectly because "the Lord has come" seems more natural, but "the Lord is come" is correct. The phrase "the Lord is come" uses an archaic form of English that was very common in 1719 when Isaac Watts wrote the song. Even Mariah Carey sang it wrong in her 1994 rendition.

The lyrics indicate that Christ is come and is already here among us. Jesus Christ didn't just come—He is here now. That's why we should not sing, "The Lord has come." We should put the emphasis on the fact that He is now here. The next time you sing Joy to the World, be mindful to say "the Lord is come."

Stanza 2

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

In the first and second stanzas, Watts writes about heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of the King.

Stanza 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.

Stanza three is not based on Psalm 98 and is sometimes omitted. It does speak of Christ's blessings extending victoriously over sin, but the repetition of the phrase "far as the curse is found" is not in Psalm 98. That's why the third stanza is not printed in some hymnals.

Stanza 4

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.

Notice that the fourth stanza celebrates Christ's rule over the world. Therefore, all nations are called to celebrate "the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love."

"Joy to the World" Sung by Whitney Houston

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on November 29, 2020:

I dont like when people say the Lord has come because He IS,

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