The Carols of Christmas

Joy to the World

One of my fondest memories of Christmas growing up is singing carols. As much as I like contemporary Christian music, I still cling to the songs of Advent. To me, they are timeless. So leading up to Christmas, I’ll be blogging about some of the backstories of these Yuletide hymns.


One of my favorite carols is Joy to the World. Two surprises about this great melody. First, it wasn’t written for Christmas. Nope. Isaac Watts wrote it about Christ’s second coming as king, not his first coming as a baby. He was so convinced of Christ’s return, he penned it in the present tense rather than the future — “Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King…” If you think about it, there is no mention of Mary or Joseph nor any of the other manger visitors. In fact, the hymn was based upon Psalm 98, which is given entirely to praise, not the birth of Jesus:

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

The second surprise is that the beginnings of Isaac’s songwriting came from his own discontent. As a young 15-year-old Isaac Watts complained about how lifeless and boring the songs were at his church (typical teenager!). As the story goes, his dad challenged him to compose some songs himself. And so he did – over 600 hymns. So many that he is known as the father of English Hymnody.

This carol was first published in 1719 under the name of The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom. The Joy to the World title came later. At first it wasn’t well-received because it was so different in style. That’s hard to believe because we love the song so much…

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.

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.

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.

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.


Joy to the World reminds us to look back as well as ahead. Jesus did come to earth as our Suffering Savior and will return as our Conquering King. In the meantime, let’s apply the words Watts wrote:  “Let every heart prepare Him room.” We all need to make room for Jesus, to work in and through every part of our lives. AMEN!

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