Backstory: “Joy to the World”

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

“Joy to the World” is actually a very strange Christmas carol.

It never mentions Mary or Joseph.

It says nothing about shepherds, angels, or wise men.

It doesn’t extol the “little town of Bethlehem.”

It doesn’t even mention Baby Jesus!

Given those facts, you have to wonder: “What kind of Christmas carol is this?”

******

Joy to the World was written in 1719 by Isaac Watts, who has been called “The Father of English Hymnody.” Watts wrote over 750 hymns, including:

“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”

“Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed”

“Marching to Zion.”

Isaac Watts was born into a strong Christian family who prayed together daily. One day when Isaac was 6 or 7 years old, the family was having prayers, when Isaac saw a mouse climbing the rope to the bell and he giggled out loud. His very pious father said sternly, “What were you doing with your eyes open during prayer?”

And without missing a beat, Isaac responded:

 “A little mouse for want of stairs,

                  ran up the rope to say his prayers.”

When his father moved to spank him, Isaac blurted out:

     “Father, Father, pity take,

                  and I no more will verses make!”

Isaac Watts was the first freestyle rapper!

He was also the first writer of contemporary Christian music.  Now, you may be thinking, “Claude, what are you talking about? Contemporary? He wrote HYMNS!”

But you have to understand that in his day, Christians didn’t sing hymns – they were only allowed to sing the Psalms, right out of the Old Testament.

One day a young Isaac Watts came home from church and complained that the music was boring. His father responded by saying, “Why don’t you write something better?”

So he did!

And the next Sunday, the congregation sang his first hymn:

Behold the glories of the Lamb

Amidst His Father’s throne.

Prepare new honors for His Name,

And songs before unknown.

The church loved it! So he began writing a new hymn every week.

A few years later, as an adult, he published some of his hymns – and that’s when the controversy began.

Great leaders of the church began to denounce Isaac Watts for destroying tradition and bringing new music into the churches.

And thus began the worship wars of the 1700s.

Churches split.

Pastors were fired.

Arguments raged about whether this new contemporary music was appropriate for the house of God.

What really pushed people over the edge was when Watts put out a book of new songs entitled, The Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament.  Watts wanted to re-write the Old Testament psalms the way David would have written them if he were alive in England in the 1700s.

And, Watts wanted to identify and make clear the CHRISTIAN themes that he saw in the psalms.

So Psalm 72 became the hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign”

Psalm 90 became, “O God Our Help in Ages Past”

And Psalm 98 became, “Joy to the World.”

And that’s why “Joy to the World” never mentions Mary, Joseph, Angels, Shepherds, Wise Men, Mangers, etc.

It’s because Isaac Watts did not set out to write a Christmas song!

What Isaac Watts set out to do was to write a Christian version of Psalm 98.

And what he saw in Psalm 98 was not the birth of Christ, but the second coming of Christ!

You can see this throughout “Joy to the World,” but it’s especially clear in verse 4:

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of his righteousness

And wonders of his love. 

This verse looks forward to a day when Jesus will rule, and people of every nation, tribe, race and tongue will join together to sing of his righteousness and celebrate his love.

But that day hasn’t come yet. We’re still waiting for it.

******

“Joy to the World” is not a Christmas carol about the birth of Jesus, based on the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke. It’s more like a victory chant about the end of time, based on Psalm 98.

So does that mean you should STOP singing it at this time of year?

Of course not.

In fact, now that you know what this song is really about, I hope you’ll sing it with more gusto than ever before.

It’s a subversive song that taps into the global conspiracy that I uncovered in an earlier post.

It looks forward to a day when the current world order is overturned:

A day when God’s blessings flow like water, and God’s righteousness rules the world.

A day when racial prejudice comes to an end, as people from every nation and race gather before the throne.

A day when everyone knows the truth, and everyone celebrates grace.

A day when finally, after so many centuries of pain, sickness, struggle, suffering, war, and hatred…

finally, there is Peace on Earth.

And that, my friends, is all the more reason to say, “JOY to the world!”