In 1719, Isaac Watts penned what has become one of the most famous hymns sung during the Christmas season. Known as the Father of English Hymnody, Watts often wrote his hymns based on the Psalms. His theological propensity led him to write The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. This work was a collection of paraphrased Psalms and his paraphrase of Psalm 98 is what we know as Joy to the World.
Psalm 98 is known as a royal psalm. Royal psalms are psalms that describe the kingship of Jesus Christ. This psalm is a call for praise to the LORD for His salvation (v2) and for His judgment (v9) at Jesus’ second coming. Joy to the World was specifically written around verses 4-9 , which means that this hymn is not about Christ’s first coming (1st Advent), but His second coming (2nd Advent). While we typically sing this song during the Christmas season, Watts did not intend to have this song sung during the Christmas season. It is appropriate for every day of the year. You’ll notice the incarnation of Jesus is not mentioned in this song, but the culmination of redemption is, in which all of creation praises Jesus for his deliverance from the curse of sin. That is the point of Joy to the World.
However, since this song is widely associated with the Christmas season, I believe examining the truths found in the lyrics will be of great encouragement. In four parts (consistent with the number of verses in the song), I want to expose the beauty of these truths and I pray this is beneficial to the reader. So let’s start by examining the first verse-
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
When we consider the 2nd Advent of Jesus Christ, who are the joyous ones? We know from Matthew 24:30, Revelation 19:11-15 that Jesus’ second coming will be a time where Jesus will finally defeat all His enemies. He will come as a conquering king, deposing all earthly kings and anyone else set against Him, including Satan. But the call for joy is for God’s people who experience the consummation of their salvation. Believers will fully recognize their King and gladly submit. This is what it means for our hearts to prepare Him room. Also, we will rule and reign (2 Tim. 2:12) with Christ and forever be reconciled with our Creator (Rev. 21:3).
Not only will humanity be reconciled to God and submitted to the authority of Jesus, but all of creation will be as well. Romans 8:20-21 says, “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Creation itself is presently under a curse, but it too longs for salvation from the curse that it was subjected to (Gen. 3:17-19). All will be right with the world, particularly in the new heavens and new earth, when Christ comes back to complete the establishment of his eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12-13) where there will be no traces of sin and its effects (Isa. 65). This is what is meant by the earth receiving her king. Creation will sing joyous praise as it realizes its deliverance from the curse by its King, Jesus. The end result of the salvation to come is heaven and nature singing. I take heaven to mean the angels. Nature will be figuratively singing (Ps. 98:7-8) as it exists free from corruption, but I believe the angels will be forever rejoicing and praising Jesus for His work of redemption and for bringing all of creation under His rule (Rev 5:9).
The second coming of Christ will be a day of great praise for God’s people, but we must not forget the importance of Christ’s first coming. It was His first coming that began the work of redemption for His people and creation. In His living, dying, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus conquered sin and death and ceased the hostility between God and His people. Jesus came on a mission to die for His people to bring them to everlasting glory (Tit. 2:13). This is the reason for our joy!