Joy to the World by Isaac Watts (1719)
How is this a song about our future?
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHS7StIz1S8 (National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLLtnTXxErM (Chris Tomlin)
Psalm 98:4-9 4 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; 5 make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, 6 with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
7 Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. 8 Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; 9 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.
This favorite Christmas hymn was not written for Christmas, is not based on the birth of Jesus as written in Luke 2, and the familiar tune is pieced together from various sources! The original poem was written in the present tense, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” However, it is not uncommon to hear it sung in the past tense, Joy to the world, the Lord has come.
The tune, Antioch, was pieced together from Handel’s Messiah by Lowell Mason, a Boston music teacher, in 1836.
The story of Joy to the World is emphatically written in St. Paul’s letter to the people in the large urban center of Ephesus in Ephesians 2:4-9
“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our sins, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved); and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God!”
Martin Luther wrote in The Freedom of a Christian Man about the everlasting joy that is our greatest gift! Yes, God’s personal love for each of us should be understood as a gift that is equal to or greater than saving Noah’s family from the flood, the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt to the Promised Land, and the return to Israel from captivity under the Persians in Babylon. God’s gift came to us in the birth of Jesus Christ!
“Should you ask how it happens that faith alone justifies and offers us such a treasure of great benefits without works in view of the fact that so many works, ceremonies, and laws are prescribed in the Scriptures, I answer: First of all, remember what has been said, namely that faith alone, without works justifies, frees and saves; we shall make this clearer later on. Here we must point out that the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises. Although the commandments teach things that are good, the things taught are not done as soon as they are taught, for the commandments show us what we ought to do but do not give us the power to do it. …That which is impossible for you to accomplish by trying to fulfill all the works of the law – many and useless as they all are – you will accomplish quickly and easily through faith. God our Father has made all things depend on faith so that whoever has faith will have everything, and whoever does not have faith will have nothing. …Thus the promises of God forgive what the commandments of God demand and fulfill what the law prescribes so that all things may be God’s alone, both the commandments and the fulfilling of the commandments. He alone commands, He alone fulfils.
The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. …Christ is full of grace, life and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death, and damnation. Now let faith come between them and sins, death, and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life, and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is a bridegroom, He must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are His.”