Posted by: rcottrill | January 21, 2011

Joy to the World

Words: Isaac Watts (b. July 17, 1674; d. Nov. 25, 1748)
Music: Lowell Mason (b. Jan. 8, 1792; d. Aug. 11, 1872)
           George Frederick Handel (b. Feb. 23, 1685; d. Apr. 14, 1759)

The Cyber Hymnal
Discovering the Songs of Christmas (p. 245-247)

Note: The Wordwise Hymns article was removed, for copyright reasons, after the publication of my book. If you want information on the background and meaning of 63 carols and Christmas hymns, I recommend purchasing Discovering the Songs of Christmas.

Lowell Mason published the traditional tune for Joy to the World in 1839, with the notation “from Handel.” It has not been traced to any specific composition of his, but contains musical phrases from two selections from Handel’s Messiah–“Lift Up Your Heads,” and “Comfort Ye.” The first two lines of the melody beautifully match the opening words of the text, with a descending scale representing the Lord coming down from heaven, and then ascending notes that seem to depict earth reaching up arms of welcome to the King.

The words of the hymn are a paraphrase of the latter part of Psalm 98, that Watts called “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” We know it as the carol, Joy to the World. Though it is traditionally sung at the Christmas season, the psalm actually concerns Christ’s second coming, when He will return to set up His earthly reign. Though Christ reigns in the hearts of individual Christians today, that is nothing like His world-wide dominion yet to come (Isa. 9:6-7; Lk. 1:31-33). We are not yet at the time when “every knee shall bow to Christ (Phil. 2:9-11). In celebration of that future day, Psalm 98 calls upon all nature to rejoice.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises….Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity” (Ps. 98:4, 8-9).

Several times in this hymn, the removal of the curse on creation is referred to–when nature sings (CH-1), when fields and floods, rocks hills and plains rejoice (CH-2), when thorns no longer infest the ground, and blessings flow where formerly the curse was found (CH-3). This takes us back to what happened when Adam and Eve sinned in Eden (Gen. 3:1-6). In the aftermath (Gen. 3:14-19), God pronounced a curse upon creation in the form of a deteriorating corruption in nature that leads to difficult and demanding toil, and eventually to death (vs. 17-19). “Cursed is the ground for your sake [i.e. on your account]” (vs. 17).

A divine curse is essentially a judgment, but it also serves as a warning, and a reminder of the destructive nature of sin. In that it has a gracious benefit. And in the midst of a declaration of stern judgment (Gen. 3:14-19) is vs. 15, which promises that the seed of the woman will one day crush the serpent’s (Satan’s) head. It is an early reference to the certain triumph of Christ many centuries in the future. Thus even in the midst of this devastating divine pronouncement, there is a ray of glorious hope. (The Apostle Paul refers to this in Romans 8:20-22.)

The final and full deliverance from corruption awaits the eternal state, and the creation of a new heavens and new earth (II Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1-5; 22:3). But the grip of the curse on the realm of nature will be lifted when Christ sets up His Millennial Kingdom. The earth will bring forth fruit as never before, and the wild animals will lose their venom and viciousness (Isa. 11:1-10; 35:1-2; 65:25; Amos 9:13-15).

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

1) According to the hymn, what is the most basic reason for “joy”?

2) The Bible tells us that one result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer’s heart is joy (Gal. 5:22). Even now, before Christ’s return, what are three things that can give us joy? See:

¤ III Jn. 1:4; I Thess. 2:19
¤ Rom. 15:13; I Pet. 1:8
¤ I Pet. 4:13 (cf. Heb. 12:2)

The Cyber Hymnal
Discovering the Songs of Christmas (p. 245-247)


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