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Joy To The World

Antioch

Both the words and music are adaptations of David's Psalm and Handel's Messiah, brought together to give us one of the most uplifting Christmas classics: Joy To The World.

by Douglas Hargreaves
Sydney, NSW

Music score

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Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts
(1674-1748)
Lowell Mason
Dr Lowell Mason
(1792-1872)

The words of Joy to the World were written by Isaac Watts in 1719 and the music by Lowell Mason in the 1830s. It is one of the most uplifting classics sung at Christmas time.

The hymn appears in the Christmas Carol section of most hymnbooks but it was not originally written as a carol.

There is no mention in the hymn about Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, Bethlehem, or anything else pointing to Jesus' birth two thousand years ago. Rather, the words refer to the second coming of Christ; the return of Jesus from heaven to the world, fulfilling biblical Messianic prophecy of the Last Judgment and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Nevertheless, there's nothing to stop us singing it at Christmas time.

Lyrics

The hymn begins with the words: "Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King." and Isaac Watts based the hymn on Ps. 98:4-9.

Watts was a nonconformist minister who published some 60 books on theology and philosophy, plus around 700 hymns, the most popular including 'When I Survey the Wondrous Cross' and 'Our God Our Help in Ages Past'. 

Music

For over one hundred years the hymn was sung to numerous melodies which matched its common metre. Then Lowell Mason, a Presbyterian of Boston, America, adapted short but inspiring sections of Handel's Messiah to arrange the melody we are familiar with today. Mason was a passionate devotee of Handel and other great composers such as Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart, and their influence is noticeable in many of Mason's works.

To confirm Mason's desire for the tune to be 'religious', he named the piece 'Antioch', after the city in Syria, where the disciples were the first to be called 'Christians' (Acts 11:26).

Joy to the World

1 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.
2 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.
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.
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.

Antioch
(Click image for full score)

'Our God Our Help in Ages Past' has been a favourite in Britain especially during war time, to help lift the spirits of relatives anxious about their fathers, husbands, sons and others fighting overseas. In 1965 it was played at Winston Churchill's funeral at St. Paul's Cathedral, London. It joins the list of other hymns such as 'Jerusalem' and 'Land of Hope and Glory' as Britain's alternative National Anthem.

(If you happen to know that this song was equally popular in other countries during WWII, please email us.)

The first four notes of 'Joy to the World' match the first four notes of the chorus 'Lift Up Your Heads' in the 'Messiah'. Also in 'Joy to the World', the part 'and heaven and nature sing' matches the instrumental introduction of the opening recital 'Comfort Ye My People'.

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