For centuries, Joy to the World has been one of the most favorite carols sung and played at Christmas time. But few may know that it actually wasn’t intended to be a Christmas song. Rather, instead of the first advent or coming of Christ, the lyrics are about the second advent or coming of Christ.
In 1719, Isaac Watts (1674-1748) penned the words,
Joy to the world! The Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King,
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sin and sorrow 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.
Watts based his verses on Psalm 98. Take a close look at this passage and you notice the lyrics that Watts wrote correspond with the prophetic references to Christ’s second coming:
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. Before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
It was 120 years later, in 1839, that Lowell Mason adapted and arranged music to Watts’ lyrics, adding the words that we sing at each verse. Some theorize that Mason set the tune to the words from an older melody that may have originated from Handel. Wikipedia states,
…the theme of the refrain, (And heaven and nature sing…) appears in the orchestra opening and accompaniment of the recitative Comfort ye from Handel’s Messiah, and the first four notes of the choruses Lift up your heads and Glory to God from the same oratorio. However, Handel did not compose the entire tune. The name “Antioch” is generally used for the tune.
(Note: The tune was named after the city of Antioch, Syria, where believers were first called “Christians”: Acts 11:26.>)
One of the most noticeable references to the second coming of Christ in both the song and the scripture is the rejoicing of the earth. The joy of the fields, floods, rocks, hills and plains…No more let…thorns infest the ground…far as the curse is found are all in connection with let the sea roar…the floods clap their hands…the hills rejoice together when the King of the earth comes to reign. The theme of the carol’s refrain, Let heaven and nature sing…, is a grand proclamation that will echo over all the earth in that wonderful age to come.
The curse will no longer be found: The prophets predicted the removal of the curse when the Messiah returns. Isaiah 35 foretells the day when, “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose”… “in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water…” (vss. 1,6-7). Other verses in Isaiah also describe how nature will be in harmony, the environment will no longer be polluted, and worldwide peace among the nations (For example, Isa. 35, 11, and 9).
The curse will be removed when King Jesus comes to reign and to establish God’s kingdom on the earth: Revelation 22:2-3. This is why there will be joy to the world when Jesus comes to judge the earth, destroy all the wicked, and put an end to sin and death. All the faithful in Christ can sing with joy knowing that when Jesus returns, they will live forever, and all suffering and sorrow will be no more.
When we sing Joy to the World at Christmas we remember how Jesus was born to be King. Yes, The Lord is come. So, Let earth receive her King. And, Let every heart prepare him room. Make room for Christ to rule in your heart as you prepare for the time when he rules the world with truth and grace. For there will be everlasting joy to all those who have hope in him (Proverbs 10:28; Romans 15:13).
Good News to You!