The Atlantic ran a headline asserting that “‘Joy to the World’ isn’t a Christmas Song.” That intrigued me such that I took the time to read the article. The article’s main assertion is this:
“Isaac Watts didn’t intend it [ “Joy to the World” ]to be a Christmas song at all. … When you read his words to “Joy to the World” closely, you start to notice that there’s nothing about Jesus’s birth—they all refer to his second coming.”
I ran through the lyrics in my head, and I couldn’t think of a counterfactual to that argument. Still certain the article was wrong, I opened up a hymnal, but that only confirmed that they were correct. There is no mention of a baby Jesus, a manger, etc. in ‘Joy to the World’ despite the fact that it is firmly ensconced in the hymnal’s Christmas section. Before I read the article, we were planning on singing Joy to the World on Christmas Eve. We’ll still be singing it on Christmas Eve, but it serves as a reminder (at least to me) that in what is officially the season of Advent we’re not just waiting to celebrate the first coming of Jesus in flesh and blood, but his second coming in power and glory. Celebrating the first coming is one of the ways we can prepare ourselves for the second.
Note: Jenny has pointed out to me that singing “Joy to the World” for Christmas is much like Mary’s singing in Luke 1:46-55. We sing of what will be in the past tense because of our faith that God will bring it to pass.
Link: http://theatln.tc/1QJRnGb (Warning: this particular article is non-partisan, but the same cannot be said of everything The Atlantic publishes).