Monday, November 26, 2012

The Story of 'Joy to the World'

A Beloved Hymn Written in Celebration of Advent

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Graphic by Kristina Elaine Riley, who writes: "I overlaid the entire picture from photos I took of the music in the most recent United Methodist Hymnal. I simply clipped out the music part and compiled them together then cut and pasted them to the template and changed the opacity."

A Short History of 'Joy to the World'
by Kristina Elaine Riley

Most people think of the wonderful hymn, “Joy to the World,” as Christmas Hymn proclaiming the joy of Christ’s birth, but there is a different history behind this marvelous song. The original words to “Joy to the World” by English hymn writer Isaac Watts were based on Psalm 98 in the Bible. According to Wikipedia “the song was 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.” Isaac Watts originally wrote the words of "Joy to the World" as a hymn glorifying Christ's triumphant return stated in the book of revelation, instead of as a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. This song was meant more for Advent than Christmas and in some hymnals today you will find it in the holiday concordance of the hymnal under Advent instead of Christmas (which is correct). Interestingly, we only sing the second half of Watts' lyrics when we sing this beloved hymn. The music of this song was adapted and arranged to Watts' lyrics by Lowell Mason in 1839. The melody is said to have been from an older melody, which was then believed to have originated from Handel, partially because of the theme of the refrain (And heaven and nature sing...). This appears in the beloved orchestra opening and accompaniment of the “Comfort ye” from Handel's Messiah, the first four notes match the beginning of the choruses “Lift up your heads” and “Glory to G-d” from the same oratorio. Handel, however, did not compose the entire tune. In fact “Antioch” is the generally used name of the tune. As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America. Today we still enjoy it during the holiday seasons of Advent and Christmas time no matter the history it reminds us to be joyful that we have a Savior, who came to earth as a baby, lived among us, died for us, was raised again victorious, and is our Lord who will come again in glorious acclamation. G-d bless you all during the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons!

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