The Deus Vincit Hymn Series: “Joy to the World”

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music …

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;

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.

Psalm 98:4,7-9

It’s always so alarming! Most Christmas Carols and Christmas songs begin with either a subdued and respectful solemnity or a simple, childlike happiness. But Joy to the World breaks into full voice instantly and shakes you violently with its glorious opening line. When you join in the singing of it, your voice – no matter how frail or insubstantial – seems transformed into a herald’s trumpet as you blast out the words, “JOY TO THE WORLD! THE LORD IS COME; LET EARTH RECEIVE HER KING!”

Each word and note after that first line seem unwilling, even incapable, of giving up any of that opening energy. Even as the sopranos and altos liltingly sing, “Let every heart prepare Him room,” the power seems only to take a short breath before the rest of the voices join with gusto, “AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING, AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING, AND HEAVEN, AND HEAVEN AND NATURE SING!”

There is no break between verses either. No catching of the breath during a gentle chorus or bridge. Instead the second verse demands as much vigor as the first, “JOY TO THE EARTH! THE SAVIOR REIGNS; LET ALL THEIR SONGS EMPLOY!” And so, into each successive verse, the vitality of each congregant, each believer, each celebrator of the incarnation of God bursts forth with a glory borrowed for a moment from the angels. Sinners of every type and every stained shade grasp with their voices for the words that might … somehow … possibly be worthy of the coming of our instrument of grace-filled salvation.

It’s no wonder that Isaac Watts, the author of the Carol (and many more wonderful hymns), attempted in writing the lyrics to capture the joy of the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 98. Human voices can’t seem to do the incarnation justice. The sea must resound with it, the rivers must clap their hands, the mountains must sing, the fields, floods, rocks, hills and plains must repeat the sounding joy!

Watts brings to recollection the horrendous chains placed on all of our groaning creation by the enormous error made by man and woman in the Garden of Eden. And then, with all of the strength his pen can muster, Watts declares that the coming of Jesus – in the form of a little baby King – will heal all.

No more let sin and sorrow reign, nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,

far as the curse is found,

far as, 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,

And wonders of His love,

And wonders, and wonders of His love.

If we could look with our spiritual eyes, perhaps we’d see – Watts and the Psalmist seem to see – the hills bursting their bonds to roll in worship to the Almighty, the seas roaring their praise, and the fields waving in worship. The Word, through whom all things were made which have been made, has deigned to live amongst His creation and His creation must receive Him with every ounce of joy and glory it can muster.

Presumed dumb and witless, donkeys and sheep attend to the Almighty. Presumed uncouth and dirty, shepherds run to His side. Presumed inanimate and shackled by man’s mastery, the earth itself sings and waves its hands reverently to its Maker. The only ones who seem not to notice are those who have invested too much in that which is passing. Wealth, power, fame and momentary pleasure fade to irrelevance in the consequence of a small stable’s occupant. Around Whom we all must gather and bow and in Whom we all must live and move and have our being.


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