Joy to the World: The Christmas Carol Not Meant for Christmas
Here is something many will be surprised to learn. At the least many will find this bit of information intriguing.
Now is the time when many, even non-Christians, will break out the time-honored Christmas carols. One of those carols will the most famous: Joy to the World.
But how many know that the original intent of poet and hymn writer Isaac Watts was not to write a Christmas song? If one reads the words with a smattering of Biblical knowledge one will see that the song has nothing to do with the nativity of Christ.
What I wish to do with this is to look at the original poem and compare it against scripture along with what is known about what inspired Isaac Watts to write it.
Here is the first stanza:
"Joy to the world! the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heav'n and nature sing."
Starting right off we do not see too much to indicate what the poem is all about, other than it being about the Lord Jesus Christ. At this point it could be about His birth. The only clue we have against that is the third line, exhorting all people to make room for Christ in their heart. The Gospel is not a story about people making room for Christ, either in their heart or even in the community. While Jesus Himself encourages the idea in words that only Christ would use that is not the story of the Gospel or the nativity of Christ. We know that at the moment Jesus is born He was not welcomed (Isaiah 53:3, John 1:11). Herod sought His death around the time He was a toddler. The Bible clearly states that the time when we are to share the Gospel is the time where the world will be vehemently opposed to Christ (John 15:18). Jesus Himself warned that Christians will be met with hostility (Matthew 7:6). Man in his most natural sense has no desire to make room for the Lord. No one seeks after God, the natural man cannot perceive the spiritual things of God (Romans 3:11).
On to the second stanza:
"Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ,
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains,
Repeat the sounding joy."
Now we begin to see more clues to indicate that the poem is not a Christmas poem. In the Gospel of Christ Jesus never comes to reign as king. He Himself declared that He came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). Basic Christian doctrine states that Christ will not reign until after He returns to earth. The majority of man since the first coming of Christ has never felt to the compulsion to sing in response to Christ's reign because that reign has not yet occurred.
The third stanza reveals more clues:
"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."
Obviously in this stanza Watts has turned his attention to the curse the world is currently subject to; the curse of sin from Adam's fall. Any believer of Christ who has been introduced to basic doctrine has learned that the world will suffer from a fallen nature until the reign of Christ comes to fruition. Sin still grows in this age of ours (Romans 5:20a). As we read the stanza here refers to nature, the creation. Thorns still infest the ground from the time God declared the consequences of Adam's rebellion (Genesis 3:17-19, Romans 8:19-22). The “blessings” of Christ will not flow as far as the curse is found until He returns.
The fourth stanza says,
"He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love."
We all know Christ does not rule the world, let alone with truth and grace. The nations that will eventually prove His reign at this time are not submitted to Him (John 7:7, 1 John 2:15).
It should be pointed out that it has been documented that Isaac Watts was inspired by the second half of Psalm 98 to write Joy to the World. Ex-positional commentary on that part of the psalm has historically said the second half is prophetic in nature, referring to the time the Messiah will come to judge and rule the earth, what Christians call the Messianic Reign or the Millennium (Revelation 20:4). With all that has been said it is safe to say that Joy to the World is a song that looks forward to the second coming of Christ and makes no mention of his first coming.
There is nothing wrong about singing a song not originally intended as a Christmas Carol during Christmas. Christ was born to die for the sins of the world, and rose from the dead to sit at His Father's right hand. In time He will return to reign. All of this is based upon a promise fulfilled from scripture, commemorated in the holiday we call Christmas.
Let us just remember what the song is really about.
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