What are the lyrics to ‘Joy to the World’, who composed the carol and what does it mean?

23 November 2021, 11:56

What are the lyrics to the Christmas hymn ‘Joy to the World’?
What are the lyrics to the Christmas hymn ‘Joy to the World’? Picture: Getty

By Sian Moore

It’s a Christmas carol you’ll no doubt be singing over the festive season. But what are the lyrics for ‘Joy to the World’, and aside from, well, joy – what’s the hymn all about?

‘Joy to the World’ was written by a man called Isaac Watts, an English Christian minister and writer whose sacred words were inspired by Psalm 98 of the Bible.

Watts published it in his collection of hymns and spiritual songs, The Psalms of David, way back in 1719.

Today, the carol is so popular that – as of the late 20th century – it was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

Read more: ‘Joy to the World’ in a minor key sounds incredibly dreary

Joy To The World (Live At The Helix In Dublin, Ireland/2013)

What does ‘Joy to the World’ mean?

Instead of celebrating the birth of Jesus like many hymns do, this carol is all about Christ’s triumphant return.

And Watts believed that all people, not just choirs and professional singers, should be able to celebrate Christ’s return with a joyful noise. With the line, ‘And heaven and nature sing’, Watts encourages all to sing His praises.

Joy to the World, but it's played in a minor key

Who composed ‘Joy to the World’?

The melody most widely paired with Watts’ text is ‘Antioch’, a tune often poorly attributed to George Frideric Handel or Lowell Mason, a key figure in American church music (see hymnologyarchive.com).

In reality, ‘Antioch’ had been around in England for several years before Mason published it in the US, but he was the first to pair it with Watts’ text.

Mason made a few changes to the tune – namely to the opening descending scale and its upward return – and credited it as “arranged from Handel”, as it bears resemblance to some passages in Handel’s Messiah.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the first four notes of ‘Joy to the World’ are the same as the first four in the Messiah’s chorus Lift up your heads, while the hymn’s third line can be heard in Comfort ye.

Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time

What are the lyrics to 'Joy to the World'?
What are the lyrics to 'Joy to the World'? Picture: Getty

What are the lyrics to ‘Joy to the World’?

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.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

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,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

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