Christmas is a time of joy. A celebration of life, giving and good cheer. Yet beyond the festive imagery, the lights, sightings and food are the stories wrapped in song and rhyme.
Joy to the World is a popular carol that is a seasonal favourite. And yet it is a strange one as Joy to the World is based on a Psalm. Its lyrics are a celebration of joy and sovereignty of God and Jesus. In it the nations of the world are asked to rejoice as God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has delivered salvation to earth. The four verse hymn is a description of Christ’s second coming and return to the world.
The first verse is a declaration of Christ’s return. It asks the world and all within it to ‘Receive her King’ and to be joyous and ‘Let every heart prepare Him room’ while the Heavens above and world below sing in celebration.
The second verse speaks of Christ’s reign on earth and how every living thing celebrates His return: ‘While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains’ echo his second coming.
Listen to “Joy to the World” Carol
Powerful and beautiful is the third verse ‘No more let sin and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground.’ It delves deeply into humanity’s transgressions and deep sadness. It shows us how merciful Christ is and offers every sinner blessings that flow.
The final and fourth verse is a build-up of Christ’s rule on earth. It shines light on His noble virtues both ‘truth’ and ‘grace’, His ‘righteousness’ intertwined with the ‘wonders of His love’.
Joy to the World is a collaboration of three individuals. The first collaborator was a clergyman and English poet Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Watts is widely known as the father of English hymnody; the famed bard of Southampton. Isaac paraphrased Psalm 98 in two parts and it first appeared in a collection titled The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719).
The second collaborator is the iconic German-born composer George Frederic Handel (1685-1759). Handel was based in London as a Baroque composer and is a legendary grand magus of operas, organ concertos, concerti grossi, anthems and oratorios. Handel fused Isaac Watts’ original with ideas of his own believing in the aesthetic notion of great music through collaboration possessing innate beauty.
The third collaborator was from the United States of America, the Boston music educator Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason was crucial in the development of American church music. He composed over 1,600 hymns. Mason introduced music into American public schools and was the first noted music educator in the United States.
A musician of great repute, he published his own arrangement of Handel’s musical interpretation in Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes (1836). Lowell named it Antioch. The American treatment of the tune introduced a ‘Fuging Tune’, a compositional technique where vocal parts enter one after the other in rapid succession, often repeating the same words.
The results of this global influence and amalgamation of musical styles make Joy to the World a favourite Christmas carol composed in England and pieced together across the Atlantic in the United States. The inspiration and fusion of influence by all three of these great collaborators resulted in us having one of the most joyous Christmas carols ever conceived. A carol we all need.