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Updated 01/08/2020

 

Joy to the World

As of the late 20th century, "Joy to the World" was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

The words of the hymn are by English writer Isaac Watts, based on Psalm 98, 96:1112 and Genesis 3:1718. The song was first published in 1719 in Watts' collection The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. Watts' 1719 preface says the verses "...are fitted to the Tunes of the Old PSALM-BOOK" and includes the instruction "sing all entitled COMMON METER". In the late 1700s "Joy to the World" was printed together with music several times, however, the tunes did not resemble and were not related to the one commonly used today.

The tune usually used today is from an 1848 edition by Lowell Mason for The National Psalmist (Boston, 1848). Mason was by that time an accomplished and well-known composer and arranger, having composed tunes such as "Bethany", which was used for the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. Mason's 1848 publication of the current tune was the fourth version to have been published. The first, published in his 1836 book Occasional Psalm and Hymn Tunes, featured the present day tune (in a different arrangement) with the present-day lyrics; the first such publication to do so. The name of this tune was given as "Antioch", and was attributed as being "From Handel". Musically, the first four notes of "Joy to the World" are the same as the first four in the chorus "Lift up your heads" from Handel's Messiah (premiered 1742), and, in the third line, the same as found in another Messiah piece: the arioso, "Comfort ye".

 

Lyrics by Isaac Watts

  Joy to the World; the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields & floods, rocks, hills & plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

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.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.