Public Service Announcement:
“Joy to the World” is a Christmas song. It is a song celebrating the first advent of Christ and not his future return. Don’t get me wrong, I’m for singing it all year round, but I think it is especially appropriate to sing at Christmas.
To my fascination, I’ve seen multiple articles floating around which essentially misinterpret the song by forcing their own eschatological presuppositions and “poo poo” its traditional characterization as a Christmas song. Even Al Mohler is in on the revisionism insanity. Say it ain’t so! Those of us who understand it in the sense of being a celebration of the first advent are then issued a slap on the wrist along with a disapproving tsk tsk. This is nothing new.
Long ago, the Mormons actually recognized the true nature of the song, so they decided to change the lyrics. Hey at least they are consistent. Instead of “The Lord is come” they wrote “The Lord will come”. Instead of “Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!” they insert “Rejoice! Rejoice! When Jesus reigns”. Most odiously, they changed the treasured lyric “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found” to “He’ll come (future tense) and make the blessings flow, far as the curse was (future-past tense) found.
If we fail to understand that postmillennialism was the dominant eschatology in the 18th century during which this hymn was written, and that author Isaac Watts himself was an ardent postmillennialist, one could see how it could be assumed that Christ’s second coming was Watt’s intent behind the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” and not his first coming.
But first, simply notice the tense of the song is not future. Watts could have easily written, “Joy to the world the Lord will come” or “the Savior will reign” or “He will rule the world”, but he didn’t. The fact that he chose not to, fits perfectly with his inaugurated postmillennial eschatology. The song is intentionally written to highlight and celebrate the present, earth redeeming imperatives of Christ’s first advent. The Old Testament picture we are given by the prophets of Christ’s first appearing is that it was a cosmic event, forever altering the course of history.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7
Secondly, we need to keep in mind that from Watt’s postmillennial perspective, the Kingdom and the reversal of the curse itself was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming. We see this playing out in Christ’s earthly ministry as he displayed power to roll back sickness and disease and over nature itself. In fact, from a postmil perspective, every imperative in the hymn is an implication of Christ’s first advent.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev 21:5
So while it’s always a good idea to look forward to Christ’s return at the consummation of history, we can also look back and rejoice as the angels did at Christ’s first coming! An event which set the whole world in motion towards the consummation.
Especially at Christmas time, we can sing “Joy to the World” and rejoice that:
A Savior came who presently demands we prepare him room.
A King came who presently rules the world.
A Redeemer came, who is presently making his blessings flow far as the curse is found.
Though we await the full realization of these things and their manifestation on the earth, in the meantime, let heaven and earth rejoice! We know where this world is heading, because Christ has come! Joy to the world.
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2