“Joy to the World” is widely considered one of the great Christmas songs of the Western world. Since the 20th century, it has been the most published Christmas hymn in North America. As with all other Christmas songs, it is supposed to be sung between Thanksgiving and Christmas and at no other time. At least, that is how we deal with it on a practical level. Of course, there are no rules written for when we can sing songs.
I would contend we do ourselves and our faith a disservice if we confine this majestic song to only the Christmas season. Furthermore, I would contend “Joy to the World” rings just as true at Easter as it does any other time of the year.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come Let earth receive her King
The lyrics lend some weight to the belief that it is a Christmas song. In fact, the first line of the song is, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” That sure sounds like a celebration of the birth of Jesus. But look a little more closely and the rest of song doesn’t exactly point to the Incarnation. In fact, when Isaac Watts wrote “Joy to the World”, he seemed to be looking ahead to the second coming of Christ, not the first. Personally, I have no problem with either interpretation – the song conveys deep and beautiful truths about Jesus, our Incarnate Savior and Messiah.
Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Before we proceed, a little bit about Easter.
What is Easter? Why do we celebrate it? The simplest answer is Easter is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. I’m guessing you already knew that. Even so, let’s dive a little more deeply into it. The resurrection of Jesus is the pinnacle of history and theology. God’s grand redemption story crescendoed on that first Easter morning.
Adam sinned and plunged humanity into the unescapable pit of sin and death. Neither Adam nor his progeny could pull themselves out of that pit. Enter Jesus – God “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus climbed to the bottom of that pit, and through His sacrificial death on the cross, made it possible for anyone to follow Him out.
Joy to the Earth, the Savior reigns Let all their songs employ While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy Repeat the sounding joy Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy
What does “Joy to the World” have to do with Easter?
As we have established, Easter is a celebration. If Easter does not inspire joy and song, what does? On the first Easter, Jesus walked out of the temporary imprisonment of the grave and now chooses to dwell in us. “Joy to the World” calls for the world to worship our King and to prepare room in our hearts for Him.
Later in the second stanza of “Joy to the World”, I love how it brings in the created order itself: the earth, the fields, the rocks, hills, and plains. It reminds me of one of my favorite Easter songs, “Was it a Morning Like This” by Sandi Patty. It includes the following lines:
Did the grass sing? Did the earth rejoice to feel You again? Over and over like a trumpet underground Did the earth seem to pound "He is risen!" Over and over in a never-ending round "He is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!"
“Did the earth rejoice to feel You again?” We cannot know for sure, but it seems likely that creation itself rejoiced as it felt its creator rise from the dead. The very one who spoke it into existence walked among the living again. But it was more than that. He removed the poisonous thorn that infected and killed everything it pierced. His resurrected body was no longer subject to death’s dominion.1 As Aslan says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Death itself would start working backwards.” One day, all of creation will join the firstborn from the dead in this glorified and resurrected reality.
That is why we celebrate. We were dead in our sins. Christ’s atoning death defeated sin. His redemptive work destroyed death’s dominion. With arms outstretched on the cross, Jesus wraps His arms around the universe. And within that embrace, He bridges the gap between Heaven and earth. Between God and man. The God man brought God and man together. What better news could there ever be? What deserves a more passionate declaration of “Joy to the World, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her king”?
Joy, Joy, Joy!
Not to compare myself to C.S. Lewis, but much like Mr. Clive Staples, many of my writing projects start with a single idea. An image. A phrase. Something that sparks my imagination and sends me down a trail trying to find the right words to build around that idea. When Lewis wrote The Chronicles of Narnia, he started that great work with the simple image of a faun carrying packages in the snow.
The idea for this article was entirely built around Future of Forestry’s version of “Joy to the World”. Eric Owyoung, the genius behind Future of Forestry composed, conducted, and performed a Christmas concert at Liberty University last year. I watched the video of it last year and was blown away.
Recently, the video for “Joy to the World” popped up on my YouTube recommendations. I haven’t been able to get the song out of my head. And I haven’t been able to deny how “right” it feels for Easter. “Joy to the World”, whatever occasion it is meant to celebrate, is first and foremost a call to celebrate the truth, grace, and love of our Savior. I think we can and should do that at Christmas, Easter, and every other day of the year. There should be no day when it is not fitting and good and right to sing this wonderful hymn of praise.
Future of Forestry’s version includes the following portion of the song, “All Creatures of our God and King”:
Thou, burning sun with golden beam Thou, silver moon with softer gleam O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! O praise the Father, praise the Son And praise the Spirit, three in one O praise Him! O praise Him! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The sun and moon rejoice. The universe rejoices. This Easter, let us join our voices with all of creation and sing out at the top of our lungs and with the fullness of our hearts in adoration, thankfulness, and joy.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Rejoice! Rejoice!