One of the most beloved Christmas carols is the celebratory, Joy to the World written back in the early 1700’s by Sir. Isaac Watts. Watts is often considered the ‘Father of Hymns’ since he is responsible over 750 songs that are still sung in many corners of the Christian Church today. Joy to the World is arguably his most famous.Watts began writing music when he was just a teenager and unhappy with the songs that the church was singing at the time. When his minister father challenged him to write something better he went home that night and did just that. The song was so well-received by his father that they sung it the next Sunday in church. It wasn’t Joy to the World but it was powerful nonetheless carrying such lyrics as this one:
Behold the glories of the lamb, Amidst His Father’s throne;
Prepare new honors for His Name, And songs before unknown.
Over the next two years Watts wrote over 200 more hymns that comprised many of his Hymns and Spiritual Songs which was published as a songbook in 1707 and served as the first real Church Hymnal in English.
Joy to the World was written and published 12 years later by Watts and was based on Psalm 98. Psalm 98 celebrates God’s protection and restoration of his people and His Creation. Watts’ carol rejoices in the same, as it expresses praise for the salvation that began when God became man. Joy to the World includes references to other Bible verses as well, including Gen. 3:17, Rom. 5:20, and Luke 2:10. There is no mention of shepherds, a manger, wise men, angels or any other Christian motif but that’s only because he did not intend it to be a song strictly sung at Christmas. He based his song on the Second Advent of Christ and not its first. Both the psalm and his hymn not only remind us to look back at His birth they also encourage us to keep our focus out front when Christ will come again to reign: He will judge the world with righteousness (v. 9). In a season for celebrating our Savior’s birth, Watts’ hymn beautifully expresses our joy at the coming of our Savior and looks forward to His return.