CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN
December 10, 2023
I Bring Good Tidings
The Story Behind the Christmas Carol "Joy to the
(Taken from https://galaxymusicnotes.com/pages/learn-the-story-behind-joy-to-the-world)
Isaac Watts, and to Since 1719, “Joy
to the World” has been a Christmas staple. Its lyrics were crafted by date, it
remains one of the most-published hymns in Northern America. However, the fun
fact is, the song wasn’t even intended to be a Christmas carol, as its original
version had no such link with Christmas. It wasn’t even supposed to be a song!
According to church history, Isaac
Watts was one of the most prolific and celebrated creators of hymns. However,
his most famous creation, “Joy to the World” was born of coincidence, rather
than desire. In 1719, Watts published “The Psalms of David,” a collection of
poems where each verse was based on a psalm. But, instead of translating the
original texts of the “Old Testament,” he made some subtle adjustments. His
poems referred more explicitly towards the works of Jesus, thus seeking
inspiration from the New Testament.
The majority of the hymns of “The
Psalms of David “have now fallen into obscurity, except for the second part of
“Psalm 98.” Ironically, the poet had no intention of creating a Christmas carol
when he composed the verse. However, in 1836, Lowell Mason composed a riveting
melody for this second part and combined with its popularity in the church.
“Joy to the World” started its journey into the music stratosphere.
The musical origin of “Joy to the World” is somewhat mystical. Lowell Mason’s version remains the most prevalently utilized to date, which was the fourth revised interpretation of the carol. Lowell named it “ANTIOCH,” the tune of which is attributed to George Frideric Handel. The choruses of Handel’s oratorio, titled “Messiah” shared a chance resemblance with “ANTIOCH.” A theme of this musical accompaniment also portrayed an eerie similarity with the orchestral inception of “Comfort ye,” a recitative.
Further, the first four notes also bear a striking similarity to the opening of the choruses “Glory to God” and “Lift up your heads,” all belonging to the same oratorio. However, this claim has its loose ends, since no autographed score by George Frideric Handel exists. This, added with zero documentary evidence suggesting Handel’s involvement offers “ANTIOCH” the benefit of the doubt. In 1986, John Wilson further unearthed the fact that the initial publication of “Joy to the World” was in two separate English collections. One of these versions, titled “Comfort” is dated back to 1833. This again creates a theory excluding Lowell Mason from the list of the composer, as his first version is dated three years after.
Although Isaac Watts is well
appreciated today, he was considered to be a black sheep back in his time. He
severely disturbed the status quo of his contemporary musical culture and was
also termed as a heretic for his lyrics. He grew up in a society that consisted
only of sections of scriptures and psalms being incorporated with music. Watts
broke this hegemony, as he noticed a certain lack of emotion among the
congregants who performed it. He hated this monotonous and dull negligence that
was prominent upon the faces of the performers. His father challenged him to do
something about this, and eventually, he started tweaking his verses, opening a
whole new frontier of possibilities.
The Accidental Christmas Hymn
Another widespread debate that is most
associated with this hymn is its origin as a Christmas carol. Although it
clearly depicts the Second Coming of Christ, it doesn’t have any trivial
connection with the Christmas story. However, contrary to popular opinion,
there lies a correlation - a “Second Coming” cannot be manifested without a
“First Coming.” The piece is all about fulfillment, depicting the notions of a
supernatural phenomenon, of what could be achieved from its impact. Similarly,
Christmas does not only dwell in the past attainments but also looks forward to
the grace that was achieved subsequently. The song proclaims the ultimate joy
that is yet to be revealed, establishing a strong connection with the festive
We read some
of the history of one of the most beloved Christmas songs there is, Joy to the
World. As we read, this song was never intended to be a Christmas song. Clearly
the first few lines could be viewed as talking about the birth of Jesus.
However, that was not the intent. The song really is about the second coming as
opposed to the birth of Jesus. The song, we learned, is based off Psalm 98, not
Luke 2:10-11. The passage in Luke joyfully says, “I bring you good news of
great joy that will be for all people.” One could easily believe this scripture
was the inspiration for Joy to the Word but it was not. Instead, it is based on
the 98th Psalm.
was looking forward the Lord’s return. Starting with verse 4 of Psalm 98 we
read, “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth, burst into jubilant song with
music, make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of
singing, with trumpets and the blast of the rams’ horn-shout before the Lord,
the King.” The next couple of verses say ALL the earth will rejoice
before the Lord. Then verse 9 concludes by saying, “Let them sing before the
Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.” So, while Joy to the Word is about Jesus, it is
not the first coming that is the main focus but His second coming. The
scripture I read to begin with talks about several things the Lord was going to
be doing. Verse 9 starts off by saying, “You who bring good tidings” twice. At
the end of verse 9 it then says, “Here is your God.” Most theologians believe
this is a reference of three different things God is going to do.
people returning to Jerusalem from exile.
first coming, the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
second coming of Jesus Christ.
So, as we
sing the song, Joy to the World, let us consider all of the things this song is
saying. The first verse can easily be viewed as being about Jesus’ arrival and
the joy that it represents. However, the remaining three verses clearly state
what Jesus brought to the world during His ministry, as well as what the world
will truly experience when Jesus returns. No matter whether this explanation of
what inspired the writing of Joy to the Word changed the way you view this song
or not, it is a song of promise, of hope and of true joy. The hope and joy that
transformed the world began in a manger 2000 years ago. God has always loved
His people. God’s mercy and grace were a key part of every story in the Old
Testament. However, God’s love, mercy and grace took on a new dimension when
the Savior of the World came to earth as a little baby. That is what we
celebrate at this time of year. Whether it is what is written in Isaiah when we
are told you who bring good tidings or in Psalm when we are told to shout for
joy all the earth or in Luke when the angels said, “I bring you good news of
This is our
story to claim because God came to earth for you and me. So, let us share the
good tidings of God’s love. Let us sing Joy to the World because we have a
reason to be excited about God’s love for all who will believe.
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