Music in joyful anticipation of Christ’s birth


Christ in Christmas Songs

Joy To The World

This past Sunday, Dec. 13, Catholics around the world celebrated the third Sunday of Advent, in preparation for the Lord’s birth on Dec. 25 (now only a week away). The third Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word gaude, meaning “rejoice.” The readings for this day focus on the excitement of Jesus’ impending birth.

One of the most-loved Christmas songs about the anticipation of the messiah is “Joy to the World,” written by Isaac Watts. The work, 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,” is based on psalm 98:

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

Make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing,

With trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn

shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

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

In 1839, music was put to the words by composer Lowell Mason. It is thought that Mason’s melody for “Joy to the World” was taken from George Frideric Handel, who wrote the famous “Messiah” oratorio.

Interestingly, Watts wrote “Joy to the World,” — which begins “Joy to the World/the Lord is Come/Let Earth Receive Her King” — as a hymn praising God’s glorious return at the end of time, not, at it is known now, as a Christmas song joyfully awaiting Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Although he is credited with some 750 hymns, “Joy to the World” is arguably Watts’ most well-known work. Whitney Houston, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett and Faith Hill are among the modern artists who have covered the Christmas classic.

Today, Watts’ “World” still brings comfort and joy, to a world awaiting the Messiah.