Joy to the World—the LORD Is Coming Again!*
The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. Psalm 98:2
The somber church music of the 18th century frustrated Isaac Watts. He wanted to use lyrics that were more understandable and tunes that were more uplifting. At that time most congregations sang only the psalms, so Watts decided to update his church’s music by rewriting all 150 psalms in rhymed verse.* The words to “Joy to the World” are his paraphrase of Psalm 98.
Watts couldn’t foresee that his version of that psalm would become one of Christendom’s most beloved Christmas carols; in fact, his words weren’t attached to the tune we sing for over 100 years! Nevertheless, the first few verses of Psalm 98 can certainly be applied to Christ’s birth. God did make his salvation known and did reveal his righteousness when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (v. 2). He also manifested His love and faithfulness to Israel through the arrival of their Messiah (v.3).
However, the psalmist also referred to events that haven’t yet occurred. Verse 3 declares, “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God,” and verse 9 proclaims, “[the LORD] will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.” These things didn’t happen when Jesus came to earth as a baby; they will happen when He returns to earth as King.
Watts understood that Psalm 98 referred primarily to the Second Coming of Christ. This is evident throughout his paraphrase. When will “rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy”? When will “heaven and nature sing”? Paul said that all of creation waits for the day when Christ will return (Romans 8:19). When will sin and sorrow no longer grow or “thorns infest the ground”? When will Jesus come “to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found”? According to Revelation 21:4, that time will come when “the first heaven and the first earth [have] passed away.”
Should we stop singing “Joy to the World” at Christmastime? Of course not. But its joyful message shouldn’t be confined to the Advent season. Every day our desire should be “let earth receive her King” as we eagerly anticipate Jesus’ Second Coming. Every day our prayer should be “let every heart prepare him room.” And every day our song should be joy to the world—the LORD is coming again!
Many psalms are considered “messianic” in that they refer to either the first or second coming of Christ. Psalm 22 and Psalm 24 are two of them. Read both psalms. Which refers to the first coming? Which refers to the second coming?
Read Simeon’s words in Luke 2:29-32. What similarities do you see between his words and Psalm 98:2-3?
What is the best way for us to “prepare him room” in our hearts? Read Colossians 3:12-17.
To read all of the lyrics to “Joy to the World,” go to http://nethymnal.org/htm/j/o/joyworld.htm
You can access a free copy of Isaac Watts’ The Psalms of David at http://www.fullbooks.com/The-Psalms-of-David.html.
Denise K. Loock
*NOTE: This devotion appears in a slightly different form in Open Your Hymnal Again: Devotions That Harmonize Scripture With Song. Order a copy at http://tinyurl.com/cnf699n