Tag Archives: Christmas

The Story Behind “Joy to the World”

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
    with the lyre and the sound of melody!
 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
    the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
    let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
    to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
    and the peoples with equity.

Such are the words of Psalm 98:4-9, ESV. These are the words that inspired Isaac Watts to write the now famous Christmas song, Joy to the World

One could say that this song began to be written back when Watts was a teenager.  It was then that he had a special talk with his dad.  They were on their way home from worship service, when young Isaac flatly stated that he thought the songs in the service were boring and antiquated.  His dad, as many dads would do, challenged him not just to complain, but do something about it. If Isaac thought he could do better, then he should.  Isaac Watts took that challenge and wrote a new hymn every week (initially), mostly based on the Psalms.  In all, Watts wrote northward of 750 hymns.

Incidentally, Charles Spurgeon’s mother challenged him to memorize Watts’ hymns. For every one Charles memorized, she’d give him a dime (10 pence). He put to heart so many of them that his mother had to cut her promise in half, a nickel for each one. This is where Spurgeon most likely got his gift of poetry, which is displayed in nearly every sermon he preached.

Because of this challenge from Watts’ father, Joy to the World eventually came into existence. Isaac was 45 when he wrote this gem (1719).

Interestingly enough, Isaac Watts and Frederic Handel (Handel’s Messiah) were friends. Though they didn’t collaborate on Joy to the World, the version that we typically sing in America comes from Messiah. A musician by the name of Lowell Mason took Lift Up Your Heads, O Ye Gates and rearranged it, calling the tune ANTIOCH, putting a 19th Century spin on both the tune and the words (the repeats at the end of each verse were Mason’s doing, not Watts’).

If one is paying attention, he will notice that the third verse is not found in Psalm 98. That’s true. It actually comes from Genesis 3 and Revelation 21-22. The curse of the fall will be reversed when Christ sets up His eternal reign and there will be a new heaven and earth.  That is what this entire Christmas song is about: the new heaven and earth. For that reason, I would consider this more of an Advent song than a Christmas song, but to each his own.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev’ry heart prepare Him room,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n and nature sing,
and heav’n, and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, 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.

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.

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.

For more “the story behind” Christmas songs, you can click/tap on the links below.

Good Christian Men, Rejoice
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
Silent Night, Holy Night

The Story Behind “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”

There is not much known about this Christmas hymn, and what we know, we don’t really. It is more legend than anything. The man with whom original authorship is attributed is Heinrich Suso (Suese), back in the 14th century (1328 AD), making it one of the oldest Christmas hymns we sing today.  Suso was a Dominican monk exiled to Switzerland because he was a bit too much of a mystic for the Pope’s liking.  While there, he claims to have dreamed of angels singing all around him. He began to join in the song and then dancing (definitely not a Baptist). When he awoke, he remembered his dream and all the lyrics to what they sang. He put pen to paper and wrote what would ultimately be referred to as In Dulce Jubilo (In Sweet Rejoicing). It is thought that Martin Luther may have also contributed to one of the verses though we can’t know that for sure.

Later on another man–John Mason Neale (of whom I share a birthday)–an Anglican priest, translated In Dulce Jubilo into English in the 1850s. We still sing this version today. As you read the lyrics, notice the progression of the gospel message, starting simply with the fact of Jesus’ birth, then the reason for Jesus’ birth (to open heaven’s door), and the culmination of Jesus’ birth (to save).

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Give ye heed to what we say: (News! News!)
Jesus Christ is born to-day;
Ox and ass before him bow,
And he is in the manger now.
Christ is born to-day!
Christ is born to-day!

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Now ye hear of endless bliss: (Joy! Joy!)
Jesus Christ was born for this!
He hath op’ed the heavenly door,
And man is blessed forevermore.
Christ was born for this!
Christ was born for this!

Good Christian men, rejoice,
With heart and soul, and voice;
Now ye need not fear the grave: (Peace! Peace!)
Jesus Christ was born to save!
Calls you one and calls you all
To gain his everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save!
Christ was born to save!

You can check out my other “story behind” Christmas song articles by clicking/tapping on their links:
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
It Came Upon The Midnight Clear
Silent Night, Holy Night