“Joy to the World”

"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth…" (Psa. 98.4)

     INTRO.: A hymn which encourages us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord because of the coming of Christ to this earth is "Joy To The World" (#495 in Hymns for Worship Revised). The text was written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748). It first appeared, entitled "The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom" in his 1719 Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament as his version of Psa. 98.4-9. Thus, the song is taken from the Psalm, but it is more than just a metric rendering. Watt’s intention was to take the language of each Psalm and apply it to the teachings of the New Testament. The tune (Antioch) is usually identified being based on music composed by George Frederick Handel, who was born at Halle, Germany, on Feb. 23, 1685. Although he showed extraordinary musical talent at an early age, his father greatly discouraged his musical interests, preferring that his son follow the legal profession.

     Still, Handel managed to study organ, harpsichord, violin, counterpoint, and fugue with F. W. Zachaw, mastering his instruments by the age of twelve, and eventually abandoned law studies for music. After playing in a Hamburg opera orchestra for four years, he went to Italy where he studied Italian opera and won considerable acclaim performing his compositions. However, after 1713, he made his home in England, being a great favorite of King George II, and became a British subject in 1727. Following great success composing Italian style operas in London, he went bankrupt in 1737 when their popularity waned. Afterwards, he abandoned opera and began writing oratorios.

     Handel’s most famous work, the oratorio Messiah, was finished in 1741, and it was first performed on Apr. 13, 1742. With its immediate success, Handel regained public favor. Although he became blind in 1752, he continued his musical performances as an organist for his own oratorios. His output included 46 operas, 32 oratorios, numerous cantatas, and many other organ, choral, and instrumental works before his death in London, England, on Apr. 14, 1759. This music used with "Joy to the World" appears to have been arranged from various phrases in several sections of Handel’s Messiah by Lowell Mason (1792-1872). It is dated 1836 and first appeared in Mason’s Modern Psalmist, published in 1839 at Boston, MA, with the note that it was "from Handel."

     Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the song appeared in the 1921 Great Songs of the Church (No. 1) and the 1937 Great Songs of the Church No. 2 both edited by E. L. Jorgenson; the 1935 Christian Hymns (No. 1), the 1948 Christian Hymns No. 2, and the 1966 Christian Hymns No. 3 all edited by L. O. Sanderson; and the 1963 Christian Hymnal edited by J. Nelson Slater. Today it may be found in the 1917 Songs of the Church, the 1990 Songs of the Church 21st C. Ed., and the 1994 Songs of Faith and Praise all edited by Alton H. Howard; the 1978/1983 Church Gospel Songs and Hymns edited by V. E. Howard; the 1986 Great Songs Revised edited by Forrest M. McCann; and the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand; in addition to Hymns for Worship Revised (not in the original edition).

     This hymn offers several reasons why we can be joyful.

I. According to stanza 1, we should be joyful because the Lord is come
"Joy to the world! the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing."
 A. To say "the Lord is come" simply means that He has come and the effect of His coming is still with us: 1 Tim. 1.15
 B. He came to be our King: Rev. 19.16
 C. Therefore, every heart should make room to receive Him: Jn. 1.11-12

II. According to stanza 2, we should be joyful because the Savior is reigning
"Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns; Let men their tongues employ.
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains Repeat the sounding joy."
 A. This doesn’t picture some millennial reign of Christ on earth after His second coming, but His present reign from heaven over His spiritual kingdom, the church, as Peter preached on Pentecost: Acts 2.30-36
 B. Even the fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over the earth: Psa. 148.7-9
 C. And as a result of what the Lord has done, we can be filled with joy: Phil. 4.4

III. According to stanza 3, we should be joyful because He makes His blessings flow
"No more let sin nor sorrow grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found."
 A. The earth has been cursed by sin: Rom. 3.23
 B. However, Jesus came to offer mankind relief from the spiritual effect of sin through the blessings that He brings: Eph. 1.3-7
 C. And these blessings are available as far as the curse is found: Gen. 3.17-18

IV. There is an additional stanza which is found in the New Harmonia Sacra, first published in 1835 by Joseph Funk at Winchester, VA. It ran through fourteen editions (some of them titled Genuine Church Music) before Funk died in 1862, continued through three more additions by his sons, the last one being in 1878, and has gone through seven more editions since then. Originally in three-part harmony, the "Legacy Edition" of 1980 has transcribed the songs into the four-part harmony common today. I have a copy of Watts’s Psalms and Hymns, and the one beginning "Joy to the World" has only four stanzas. I have searched through the book to see if the new stanza was borrowed from any of Watts’s other Psalms or hymns and can find nothing that even resembles it, so I have no idea of its source. According to this extra stanza, we should be joyful because Jesus died for our sins.
"Blest be the Lord who sent His Son To take our flesh and blood.
He for our lives gave up His own To make our peace with God."
 A. It was God who sent His only begotten Son for our salvation: Jn. 3.16
 B. In coming to this earth, the Son took our flesh and blood: Heb. 2.14-15
 C. His purpose in doing this was so that He could give up His life in order to make peace with God for us by the blood of His cross: Col. 1.20

V. According to stanza 4 we should be joyful because He rules the world with truth and grace
"He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love."
 A. Because Jesus died and is now on His throne at the right hand of God,  He makes his grace to abound wherever the curse of sin abounds: Rom. 5.20-21
 B. And He wants all nations to hear the gospel message of salvation: Mt. 28.18-20
 C. As a result, people of all nations can experience the wonders of the love of Him who tasted death for everyone: Heb. 2.14-15.

     CONCL.: Some tinkering with this great hymn has been attempted. A Seventh-Day Adventist hymnbook focused it on the second coming of Christ by changing the first line to say, "Joy to the world! the Lord will come." The 1838 Social Hymns for the Use of Friends of the Rational System of Society sought to remove entirely the concept of divine incarnation by altering the first stanza to read, "Joy to the world! the light has come, The only lawful King: Let every heart prepare it room And moral nature sing." Many people consider this a so-called "Christmas carol" and sing or even think of it only during the holiday season. I once led it on a warm Sunday morning and one brother later remarked that it made him feel cooler just singing it! As a result of this, some brethren object using the song at all because they oppose all songs about the birth of Christ. However, neither Watts nor Handel had any idea of celebrating "Christmas" by their words or music. The hymn can be sung at any time as a joyful proclamation of of praise to Christ for His coming to save sinful mankind. Indeed, our message to the whole earth should be that in Christ there is truly "Joy to the World."


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