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the true meaning of

Christmas Carols

“Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts, appearing in his 1719 hymnal, Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and applied to the Christian State and Worship. It is his rendition of Psalm 98. The first part is titled, “Praise for the Gospel.” His paraphrase of the last part is titled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” This is the song we know today as “Joy to the World.”


The music for this beloved carol is thought to have been adapted by Lowell Mason, an American church musician and educator, probably from parts of Handel’s Messiah. This adapted tune became known as the “Antioch” tune. Thus an English literary genius of the 18th century, a German-born musical giant from the same period, and a 19th century American choir director combined to give us one of the most stirring and beloved Christmas Carols.

The story behind the carol...

“Joy” is one of Christianity’s foremost words; that is because it is one of Christ’s favourite words. In Luke 15, He spoke about a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. He was referring to our condition as spiritually lost and our need of being “found” or “saved.” In the parable, when the lost items were recovered, there was great joy. The Shepherd said, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” The Saviour added, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents … there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.”

As of the late 20th century, “Joy to the World” was the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

Christ was describing His own deep joy, and that of His Father, in rescuing a person from sin’s deadly power. The whole chapter reveals the boundless joy that the blessed Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – experiences each /me a soul is saved.


Many people seem to be endlessly chasing after “happiness”; endlessly chasing and never attaining any satisfaction. Actually, the word “happiness” comes from a root word meaning “luck.” It is based on events, circumstances, or “happenings” in life. However, we all realize that circumstances can quickly change. King Solomon was wealthy, influential, and wise, but he knew that one day he would die, leaving everything behind. His view of life, and his sense of futility, caused him to mourn, “Vanity of vanities!” or “It’s all empty!”


The God of Heaven has something infinitely greater for you than mere happiness – He has joy! His message to Earth – the Gospel – is called “the Gospel of the blessed (or joyous) God.” The Apostle Peter, in his first letter, described the joy believers have as “unspeakable joy.” Throughout eternity, saved people will experience what the prophet Isaiah called “everlasting joy.” God wishes you to experience the true joy that can come only to those who know Him. That joy is based on a changeless relationship with the God of all joy, a salvation secured by the Good Shepherd, and an assured future in His presence for ever. It is because the Saviour came, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, that the Gospel can offer you forgiveness and “the joy of salvation.”

More carols in our series...

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

Mary Did You Know

The Hallelujah Chorus

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hark the Herald Angels Sing

Fear Not - I Heard the Bells

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