There are many lists of the most popular Christmas carols. The lists differ from each other but Joy to the World can be found on almost all of them.
This hymn shouldn’t be on any of these lists because it isn’t about Christmas at all. It is about the future return of Christ.
It was written by Isaac Watts and is based of Psalm 98.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the LORD, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.
The psalm is a description of what will happen when God judges the earth. When Jesus was born he didn’t come as a judge but as a savior. That is the meaning of his name.
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.
Jesus came to die for our sins so we could be forgiven. After he rose and returned to Heaven he sent the Holy Spirit to give his followers the power they needed to preach the message of forgiveness to the whole world.
The present age of preaching the gospel won’t last forever. Christ will return to judge the earth and establish his kingdom here. If you examine the words of Joy to the World you will find that it describes what will happen then, not what happened when Jesus was born in Bethlehem.
Joy to the world! The Lord has come:
let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare him room
and heaven and nature sing.
When Jesus was born wise men from the East came looking for him because they knew he was king of the Jews but Herod tried to have him killed. Jesus is in fact King but the world doesn’t yet acknowledge that fact.
Joy to the world! the Savior reigns:
let men their songs employ
while fields and floods rocks hills and plains
repeat the sounding joy.
Today Jesus reigns only over those who have turned to him for salvation. The rest of the world rejects him.
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.
Since sin entered the world the whole world has been under a curse. The existence of thorns and harmful plants is a symptom of that curse. This didn’t change when Jesus was born but it will when he returns.
He rules the earth with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love.
Those who put their faith in Christ experience truth and grace on a personal level but in the world as a whole they are extremely rare.
It is unfortunate that people don’t know the real meaning of Joy to the World. There are plenty of other songs celebrating the birth of Christ but very few that celebrate his return.