Written by: Tim Wood
A young boy once complained to his father that most of the hymns they sang in church were boring to him. He believed church hymns were too far behind the times, contained meaningless words and tiresome tunes. His father challenged his son’s complaints by saying, "If you think you can write better hymns, then why don’t you?" The boy went to his room and wrote his first hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." The year was 1690, and that teenager was Isaac Watts. He would become one of the most popular and prolific hymn writers in church history. Isaac Watts has been credited with writing over 700 hymns. Perhaps his most famous is “Joy to the World.”
"Joy to the World," was Isaac Watts’ attempt to put Scripture to music. The hymn is based on Psalm 98, especially verses 4-9.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
9 before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity. (ESV)
“Joy to the World” may be one of the most popular Christmas hymns we sing during this season. However, Watts intended this hymn to be a celebration of Christ’s second coming more than His first. The first stanza says, “The Lord is come” not the Lord has come. Watts was not describing a past event (the birth of Jesus), but a future event (the return of Jesus). Isaac Watts believed the main point to Psalm 98 was a celebration of Christ’s Second Advent. It speaks of Jesus’ final coming to earth when he writes “the Savior reigns” and “He rules the world with truth and grace.” Watts longed for that glorious final day when the “nations (will) prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love.”
Even though Watts may not have ever envisioned his song being sung at Christmas time, I think it is a wonderful tribute to his work. Indeed, the first advent of Jesus stands as a historical guarantee that His Second Advent is just around the corner. The birth of Jesus and the return of Jesus are “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”