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The Surprising History Behind ‘Joy to the World’

“There is one Christmas carol that is unlike all others,” says Claire Pfann. Pfann is the Academic Dean at the University of the Holy Land, a Christian university in Jerusalem. “That song, ‘Joy to the World,’ is not about the First Coming of Jesus. That hymn is about the Second Coming of Jesus.”

The Background of ‘Joy to the World’

English hymn-writer Isaac Watts was the author of  “Joy to the World,” a poem based on Psalm 98 that was included in a poetry collection he wrote in 1719. The poem was never intended to be a Christmas song. It was over a century later, in 1836, that a man named Lowell Mason set the hymn to music. Mason was a Boston music teacher and the leading Presbyterian hymn composer in the United States. He published “Joy to the World” during the Christmas season, and that is how the song became associated with the holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus. At one point it was reportedly the most published Christmas carol in the United States.

“It’s about when he comes again, finally,” says Pfann, “and rules in power and justice and mercy.”

Here are the lyrics to this famous song:

Joy to the world! the Lord is 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.

Joy to the world! the Saviour 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.

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Jessica is a writer for ChurchLeaders.com. She has always had a passion for the written word and has been writing professionally for the past two years. When Jessica isn't writing, she enjoys West Coast Swing dancing, reading, and spending time with her friends and family.