Christmas Classics – Joy to the World (Lyrics Review and Song Meaning)

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Christmas is a time of joy. A celebration of life, giving and good humor. Yet beyond the festive imagery, the lights, sightings, and food are stories shrouded in song and rhyme.

Joy to the World is a popular Christmas carol that is a seasonal favorite. And yet, it is strange because Joy to the World is based on a Psalm. His words are a celebration of the joy and sovereignty of God and Jesus. The nations of the world are asked to rejoice as God’s faithfulness to the house of Israel has brought salvation to the earth. The four-line hymn is a description of the second coming and returning of Christ to the world.

the first verse is a declaration of the return of Christ. He asks the world and all that is in it to “receive his king” and to be joyful and “that every heart prepare his room for him” while the heavens above and the world below sing for celebrate.

the second verse speaks of Christ’s reign on earth and how every living being celebrates his return: “As fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains” echo his second coming.

Listen to Carol “Joy to the World”

Mighty and beautiful is the third verse ‘Do not let sin and sorrows increase, Nor thorns plague the ground.’ He dives deep into the transgressions and deep sorrow of humanity. This shows us how merciful Christ is and offers every sinner the blessings that flow from it.

The final and fourth verse is an accumulation of Christ’s reign on earth. He highlights his noble virtues both “truth” and “grace”, his “justice” intertwined with the “wonders of his love”.

Joy to the World is a collaboration of three people. The first collaborator was an English clergyman and poet Isaac Watts (1674-1748). Watts is widely known as the father of the English anthem; the famous bard of Southampton. Isaac paraphrased Psalm 98 in two parts and it first appeared in a collection called 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 mage of operas, organ concertos, concerti grossi, hymns and oratorios. Handel merged Isaac Watts’ original with ideas from his own belief in the aesthetic notion of great music through a collaboration possessing innate beauty.

The third collaborator was from the United States of America, Boston music teacher Lowell Mason (1792-1872). Mason played a crucial role in the development of American religious music. He composed over 1,600 hymns. Mason introduced music to American public schools and was the first renowned music teacher in the United States.

A renowned musician, he published his own arrangement of Handel’s musical interpretation in Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes (1836). Lowell named him Antioch. American air treatment introduced a “fuging tune,” a composition technique where vocal parts enter one after another in rapid succession, often repeating the same words.

The results of this global influence and the fusion of musical styles make Joy to the World a favorite Christmas carol composed in England and re-enacted across the Atlantic in the United States. The inspiration and fusion of influences of these three great collaborators allowed us to have one of the happiest Christmas carols ever. A song we all need.

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