It’s inevitable. At some point in the next few weeks, the piano, organ, and brass will begin to play; the conductor will give the downbeat; and one of my brothers-in-law will glance out of the corner of his eye to see what’s going on in my region of the choir.
You see I cannot bring myself to sing “Joy to the World.” Even now, I actually can feel the disappointment in my spiritual life you have at this very moment.
Take a moment and read through the lyrics. When the hymn writer, Isaac Watts, composed the carol in 1719, it was not intended to be a Christmas/Advent/First Coming carol. Hymnary.org notes that Watts “published it in his Psalms of David Imitated (1719) under the heading ‘The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.'” Another article giving the background of the carol can be found here.
“Joy to the World” (based off of Psalm 98) is actually about Christ’s Second Coming and the onset of the Messianic (i.e., Millennial) Kingdom. It has precious little to do with Christmas, as the events the carol speaks of are still yet to occur! Now, I can understand singing the carol at Christmas if one’s understanding of Scripture leads them to believe that Christ’s Kingdom, as prophesied in the Old Testament, began with the beginning of the Church. In that way, many of those Old Testament passages are applied to the current age. But, in the circles I’ve traveled and in which I’ve had fellowship, that is not the case.
It’s not like there is a dirth of good Christmas carols — even carols that balance the birth of Israel’s Messiah with the realization that God had now begun to administrate His kingdom differently on the Day of Pentecost. I know “Joy to the World” is boisterously happy and jubilant, but — like anything else — shouldn’t the text inform and guide as to proper usage?
At the end of it all (no pun intended), let me be clear. When He comes — our glorious King — I will gladly, triumphantly, and loudly be singing “Joy to the World.” I’d go so far as to say that I hope it is the second song in D-major that we end up singing on that day. The first, of course, will be Handel’s chorus “Worthy is the Lamb” from The Messiah. (What can I say? The pedal D on the organ makes me well up every time! I’m hoping part of the refreshing the New Covenant brings is a clearly-audible 128′ pipe for that D that will resound throughout the universe.)
So go ahead. Roll your eyes. Cringe. Think ill-thoughts. I’m really not that crazy. Or at least for this reason.