- Singing the Faith: 330
- Isaac Watts
- “Antioch (Comfort)” by W. Holford arr Lowell Mason
- 86.86. extended
Laura de Jong suggests on Hymnary.org that, once this hymn’s origins in Psalm 98 are taken into account, it need not be sung only on Christmas Day.
“It could be sung at the beginning of the [Christmas Day] service as an announcement of the birth, or nearer the end – a final hymn of praise in which we express the joy that has built up throughout our worship.” On other occasions, she suggests, it could also be sung as a hymn of assurance following prayers confession that focus on our failure to take care of God’s creation.
“If you really want to mix things up, try singing the hymn during a service themed around Creation, rather than at Christmas time. Just be sure to make the connection to Psalm 98 clear!”
“Joy to the world” is a paraphrase by Isaac Watts of Psalm 98, originally included in his 1719 publication The Psalms of David Imitated under the heading “The Messiah's Coming and Kingdom”. Unlike Sing we the King who is coming to reign (StF 185), which also paraphrases this psalm, Watts concentrates on its second half, which invites nature itself to “acclaim the presence of the Lord our King”.
Both hymns re-read the original text in the light of the coming of Jesus, and Joy to the world is often sung as a Christmas Day hymn of celebration. However, especially when read in the light of Psalm 98, this is a hymn that has much broader application (see above).
The tune’s origins are not altogether clear and it is sometimes misattributed to Handel, perhaps becasue the melody is similar to some of those in The Messiah e.g. the chorus "Lift up your heads".