Joy to the World

A few years ago, a friend emailed me a story told about a mother who encouraged her young son to practice playing the piano, and specifically, to practice his scales. She told him to practice them not only forward, from middle C up the scale to C an octave higher, but to also practice them starting at the octave C and going back down to middle C. I’m not sure that I have everything exactly right about this story, but this part I know is right, she told him, as he played the descending scale, to put pauses at certain points in the scale. When the son did so, he recognized, not just a scale of notes, but the carol Joy to the World. As of right now, I’ve been playing the piano just shy of 60 years, and that was news to me. But let’s look at the real story behind this beautiful song.

The lyrics were written by Isaac Watts in 1719, though not with the intention of becoming a Christmas carol. It was written as a response to or reinterpretation of Psalm 98 and has more to do with Jesus’ second coming than His first.

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.

“The Lord has made known His salvation, His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

“Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth; break forth in song, rejoice, and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of a psalm, with trumpets and the sound of a horn; shout joyfully before the Lord, the King.

“Let the sea roar, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it; let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills be joyful together before the Lord, for He is coming to judge the earth. With righteousness He shall judge the world, and the peoples with equity.” Psalm 98

An accomplished and well-known composer and arranger, Lowell Mason arranged the tune used today in 1848. This tune is somewhat reminiscent of a couple of musical phrases found in Handel’s Messiah; although Handel scholars dismiss as mere coincidence the idea that Mason might have “borrowed” these phrases for his arrangement of Joy to the World.


A joyful and glorious hymn of praise to God for sending His Son, and a looking forward to His soon return, Joy to the World is a wonderful song to sing all throughout the year.

“Joy to the world! The Lord is come;

Let Earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare Him room,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven and nature sing,

And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.”