Welcome to part three in a four-part series where I will be unpacking some classical music for the holiday season. These are pieces that may or may not be familiar, but will definitely add holiday joy to your home! Find previous posts on Troika and Sleigh Ride.
Joy to the World // Handel & Watts
Have you discovered my bait and switch? So far, all of our Classical for Christmas lessons have featured pieces that are Christmas-y, but not necessarily intended for Christmas. You might be surprised to find out today’s piece is no different.
But not Christmas.
How can that be?
Joy to the World features the intersection of two greats in music history, one of the greatest composers ever and one of the greatest hymn writers ever. George Frederic Handel and Isaac Watts were both residents of England (George was born in Germany), living in similar times. They were contemporaries and acquaintances, but they moved in different circles and certainly did not collaborate on purpose.
Let’s start with George.
Dear George is on of my all-time favorite composers. I have talked about him many times here on the blog (here, here, here, and here), and he is the first composer in Series 1 of A Kid’s Guide to Classical Composers.
Even with his one million famous pieces of music, today’s is probably the one you know the best.
Handel is generally credited with the tune for Joy to the World, but it is really a pieced together patchwork of melodies pulled from his famous Messiah. Hymn writer Lowell Mason caught the vision for using parts of Handel’s Messiah to create a new tune, and that’s how the music you know so well came to be.
The lyrics are from the great rule-breaking, iconoclastic, and revolutionary hymn writer, Isaac Watts. If he was alive today, his music would be so controversial it probably would not be played on your local Christian radio station.
Watts was known for taking inspiration from Scripture to write brand new lyrics to be sung in church. In a time when only metrical psalms were sung in worship, this was incredibly out of the box — and not well-received, to say the least. In fact, Watts was run out of the church and went through periods of severe depression as a result of his battles to get people to sing his provocative lyrics…crazy songs like When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.
It seems unbelievable to us now, but it was really shocking at the time to sing these “made up” words. The pearl clutching was real.
But…back to how Joy to the World originally had nothing to do with Christmas.
Watts took the words of Psalm 98 and morphed them, with great liberty, into the text of Joy to the World. The song is often mis-sung: Joy to the World, the Lord has come. But that’s not what Watts wrote.
Joy to the World, the Lord IS come.
Joy to the World, the Lord is COMING.
This song is not about Christ’s first coming, with the manger, shepherds, and singing angels.
This song is actually about when He comes again. When trumpets and quakes will announce that the earth as we know it is no more, and Heaven has come to rule forever.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns…
He rules the world, with truth and grace…
This is an advent hymn for sure – just not the first advent. This is a song for the second advent. The second coming. The coming-again that we, as believers, are waiting for. The day the tears will be wiped away and the thorns will no longer infest the ground.
He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found…
The curse of Genesis 3, instituted because of sin, is far reaching. But the blessings of Jesus will be greater. That’s what this song is teaching us. When we sing this song at Christmas, we are not looking back.
We are looking forward.
There are no shortage of amazing versions of this iconic piece of music, and I have several for you. I hope it speaks to you in a deeper way than ever before, and I hope you feel equipped to impart these truths to your children.
May you experiences the flowing blessings of Christ this holiday season, my friends.
P.S. Come back Monday for a very special Christmas Eve post, celebrating a very special Christmas Eve song.
A traditional to get us started:
Now with a Celtic twist…
To make your kids laugh…if Isaac Watts and George Frederic Handel only knew their work would one day be reduced to this! Ha!
And finally, to make YOU laugh. The reach of this hymn is unbelievable – across the secular world and known by just about everyone!