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A Brief History of Joy to the World

In 1719, theologian and hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote the famous Christmas carol, “Joy to the World”. The hymn was originally based on a Christ-centered interpretation of Psalm 98, and it was probably verses 4-9 that inspired Watts to write, “And heaven and nature sing.”

It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to imagine that the Apostle Paul, writing much earlier in church history, may have also considered Psalm 98 when he included in his first letter to Timothy this early Christian hymn:

“He was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated by the Spirit,
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.”

After all, Psalm 98 celebrates the revelation of God’s salvation:

“The Lord has made known his salvation;
    He has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness […]
All the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98:2-3

What we celebrate on Christmas is the beautiful revealing of God’s great love for and salvation of His people in the God-man Jesus, a revealing that all of heaven and nature don’t just sing but see.