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Joy to the World

posted Dec 26, 2014, 12:11 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 1:50 PM ]
British theologian Isaac Watts is commonly called “The Father of English Hymns” since he authored about 750 hymns including O God Our Help in Ages Past, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and I Sing the Mighty Power of God. Based on Psalm 98, he published Joy to the World in his 1719 collection; The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship. Though it’s the most-published Christmas hymn in North America, you’ll notice no mention of shepherds, a manger, angels, or anything associated with the nativity. That’s because he originally intended it as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant second coming, rather than the first!

No one knows for sure when it became associated with Christmas. though its message certainly applies to the joyous occasion of Christ’s appearance as a babe in Bethlehem, commanding us to prepare room for him in our hearts and lives.

In 1839, the music director of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Lowell Mason, adapted and arranged it to a hymn tune called ANTIOCH. George Frideric Handel is often credited as its composer, because the music of the refrain (and heaven and nature sing...) bears resemblance to the orchestra opening of “Comfort ye” from his Messiah, and the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses “Lift up your heads” and “Glory to God” from the same oratorio. However, he didn’t compose it as a hymn tune, Mason assembled it using Handel’s motifs!

Well-known recordings include versions by Percy Faith; The Supremes; Andy Williams; Mariah Carey; Clay Aiken and Faith Hill. Whitney Houston sang it for the movie The Preacher's Wife and The Jonas Brothers recorded a version called "Joyful Kings".

So repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy...