Although it’s considered one of the most beloved of all Christmas carols, Joy to the World wasn’t originally written for Christmas. Rebellious hymn writer Issac Watts penned this hymn basing it on Psalm 96, Psalm 98, and Genesis 3:17-18 – none of which even hints at the New Testament Christmas story – and published it in his 1719 hymn collection, Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. The text actually focuses on the second coming of Christ so hymnals often group the carol with Advent hymns, but its jubilant message is perfect for Christmas and has become a favorite to celebrate Christ’s birth.
Through the years, Watts’ original text remained largely undisturbed except for a few hymnal editors who chose to omit the phrase “far as the curse is found” in the third verse. And hymnal editors are not alone – many recordings of Joy to the World intended for kids just skip verse three entirely…to avoid any cursing!
Joy to the World is sung to the tune Antioch which has a very murky history. Some scholars believe American church musician Lowell Mason was behind the tune but there’s quite a bit of evidence that it was really contrived from different sections of G.F. Handel’s oratorio The Messiah.
Thanks to that possible kinship with Handel’s Messiah, I decided to ignore the fact that Joy to the World is really an Advent carol and matched it with The Messiah’s popular Christmas chorus For unto Us a Child Is Born to create a splashy piano medley celebrating the excitement of Christmas. (The same idea as my Handel Easter medley.) It might not the easiest piano arrangement to play but it’s great fun, impressive, and well worth the bit of practice time it takes to prepare. Enjoy!