Church,  Culture,  Old Testament

Joy to the World! (Singing a “Non-Christmas Song” at Christmas)

Music is such a big part of Christmas. There is always a little extra energy come Christmas time, due in part to the old Christmas songs that we sing. A classic example of those Christmas songs is Joy to the World. Joy to the World is one of Christianity’s most beloved Christmas songs. It is one of those songs that almost everyone can sing along with (even if they are not a Christian).

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Written by Isaac Watts, Joy to the World is based on Psalm 98 and was first published in 1719 in a collection entitled The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship.

Although I don’t normally blog about songs, given the fact many of us will be singing Joy to the World this Christmas season, I thought I would point out the biblical connections. The biblical basis of Joy to the World is worth emphasizing. You see, it is not about Christmas time. It is actually about the Second Coming of Christ. Notice the lyrics (esp. verses 3-4):

[Verse 1]
Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

[Verse 2]
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

[Verse 3]
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,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

[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,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love

Clearly this is not describing the present state of reality. It is looking ahead to when Christ comes back for the kingdom that God promised Him. Does that mean we should not sing Joy to the World during Christmas time? I think this song is perfectly appropriate to sing at Christmas time, because it is the first coming of Christ which solidifies the second.

From a biblical perspective it is through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, Jesus (as the Son of David) was declared God’s Son (Rom 1:3-4), thus solidifying His right to the eternal throne of David (2 Sam 7:16). That is why Jesus said after His resurrection, “All authority has been given to Me” (Matt 28:18). Because of the coming of Christ the first time, we have an earnest expectation of the fulfillment of Psalm 98. We look forward to Christ coming back, judging the unrighteous, and setting up His kingdom! Truly, this will be Joy to the World!

photo credit: mag3737 via photopin cc

Note: This article was originally published on Dec 23, 2014. It has been edited and reposted.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

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