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Joy to the World




The Christmas season serves as a time to remember the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ. Usually, when our calendar flips to December, our first reaction is to start listening to our favorite classic Christmas carols.

 But have any of us stopped to think about the depth of the lyrics that we’ve been singing every year since we were little? Join us as we adventure through “Melodies of Hope,” a series of Christmas carols that dive deep into the scriptures that inspired them.


Did you know that “Joy to the World” is not necessarily a Christmas song? 

About 300 years ago, a musical genius named Isaac Watts wrote the world-renowned poem, inspired by Psalm 96 and Psalm 98, about the day the Messiah will come. Over 100 years later, the poem received a melody, and a song was born. The irony of the piece being a famous Christmas carol is that it was initially about the second coming of Christ, not the first.

This year, we will sing the same timeless, festive songs for hundreds of years. While songs like “Joy to the World” will never expire, the lyrics may lose their vigor as people lose touch with the meaning. To set ourselves up for a genuinely worshipful Christmas season, let’s look at some lyrics, their meaning, and their application today.

JOY TO THE WORLD // Watts had an interesting but not unique take on the return of Jesus. Even though it meant judgment of the world, he saw that Christ’s second coming was good, joyous news to the world. Whether Watts was talking about the ‘world’ and referring to the people or the creation is unknown, but what is undoubtedly the case is that His people and creation long for His return (Romans 8:19-23; Revelation 22:20). So, His coming is joyous because it means the plan – to fix all that is broken in the world – is initiated (Psalm 96:11; Psalm 100).

LET EVERY HEART PREPARE HIM ROOM // Jesus spoke the famous words penned in Revelation, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus also warned people that there is only room for one in each of our hearts. “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” He said to His disciples. Watt’s wish was that of Jesus that every person would make room in their life for Jesus. In other words, when He comes, may people understand both the opportunity and the danger and clear space for their King.

HEAVEN AND NATURE SING // God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit set the universe in motion at the beginning of time. Since then, creation has presented to God a perpetual and all-encompassing song of praise (Psalm 96:1-3; 12-13). When you sing these words this Christmas, you join the never-ending song of creation.

LET MEN THEIR SONGS EMPLOY // Think of ‘employ’ as ‘use.’ Since we are called to live worshipful lives – in both word and deed – Watts prayed that people would leverage their song to glorify God. A great application of this line would be to use this song to increase your joy. This may be a challenge this Christmas season: to sing the songs and acknowledge every word. 

Today, so many people grow numb to these realities or doubt them just days after believing them. Then, they allow doubt and numbness to limit the meaningfulness of their song (Romans 12:1). Instead, let us be a Church this Christmas season that sings songs with intention from a place of authenticity.

REPEAT THE SOUNDING JOY // Creation exists in a cycle. Yes, many rhythms are found in nature, but there is another repetition at work: the cycle of worship. The Psalmist writes that “Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” What is this speech? It is answered in the preceding verse: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1-2). In the Apostle Paul’s words, “God’s invisible attributes…have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made (Romans 1:20). 

As you sing these words this Christmas, reflect on the fact that you are fulfilling your ordained function in displaying for the world a presentation of the character of God. In singing, you are fulfilling your God-intended purpose!

AND HE MAKES THE NATIONS PROVE // The world affirms the worldview of the Bible – most of the time unintentionally. Some of the best evidence for God comes through the activity and thinking of people. Nation’s prove God, says Watts. In this particular case, Watts suggests that nations prove the beauty and magnificence of God’s perfect character. How do people all over the world reveal God’s perfect character? They live with a standard, a common moral law, suggesting God’s right living is a way of life to be achieved (Psalm 96:7, Psalm 96:10). Our morals—what we sense is right and wrong – strongly suggest that God has wired humanity to evaluate good and evil through His lens.

HE WILL RULE WITH TRUTH AND GRACE // The world is full of joy and hope because Jesus will reign with compassion and understanding without compromising truth and justice. His track record as a ruler will be perfect, finally revealing to every kingdom of the earth what kind of ‘Kingdom’ people had been hoping for in casting every ballot and waging every war (Revelation 20:6).

So, do we discount this Christmas carol because it isn’t directly related to the birth of Jesus? I say we keep it. While the song may have originally served the purpose of directing attention to the good news of Jesus’ second coming, a similar, if not the same, celebratory spirit belongs at the birth of Christ. What does the second coming have to do with the first? Jesus is the world’s light, come to cast out the darkness. He completed part of His mission some two thousand years ago, and He will return to finalize His work and put evil in its place once and for all. Celebration of His first coming always has His second in mind, and the reverse is also true. Without the birth of Jesus, there would be no second coming, no perfected Kingdom, no all-satisfying, reconciling judgment, or joy in the world.

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Scripture References

  • Romans 8:19-23
  • Revelation 22:20
  • Psalm 96:11
  • Psalm 96:11
  • Revelation 3:20
  • Psalm 96:1-3
  • Psalm 96:12-13
  • Romans 12:1
  • Psalm 19:1-2
  • Romans 1:20
  • Psalm 96:7
  • Psalm 96:10
  • Revelation 20:6
Josh Crawford Josh Crawford is on staff at Passion City Church where he serves on the CORE Team, specializing in "Practical Theological Discipleship." Before coming on staff, Josh studied Religion at Wofford College and went on to complete a Masters in Theology at Dallas Theology Seminary. Josh lives in Atlanta with his wife Macie, close by their two incredible families. He loves golf when he plays well but hates it when he plays badly.