No Christmas carol list would be complete without the exuberant celebration song, “Joy to the World.” This lively tune is easily memorized and simple to play on an instrument. But do you know the interesting story behind this well loved hymn?
Isaac Watts, author of around 750 songs, is commonly called “The Father of Hymns” due to his popularity as the first English hymn writer. A few of his most well-known songs still sung today include Come ye that Love the Lord, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, At the Cross, and Joy to the World. Isaac Watts was just a young man when hymns other than the Psalms were allowed to be sung in the Church of England. This led the way for Watts to develop many beloved songs. Watts still based many of his songs on the Psalms, but he was especially interested in writing hymns based on the “Christian experience.”
Joy to the World was written in 1719 and based on Psalm 98:
Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise. Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King. Let the sea roar and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together. Before the LORD, for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity.
If you notice the lyrics of the song, Joy to the World, you will see nothing about shepherds, a manger, wise men, angels, or any other character or element that we normally associate with the Christmas story. The reason behind this is that Isaac Watts did not write Joy to the World to be a Christmas song. The original theme of this song was the second coming of the Lord.
Over 100 years later, in 1839, Lowell Mason adapted and arranged this song into a melody many believed, at the time, to have been written by the famous composer, George Frederick Handel.