Sunday, December 16, 2007

Joy to the World!

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And Saints and angels sing
And Saints and angels sing
And Saints and Saints and angels sing

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns
Let Saints their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy

Joy to the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse was found,
Far as the curse was found,
Far as, far as the curse was found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And gives to nations proof
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love;
And wonders of His love;
And wonders, wonders of His love.

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God,
And ever worship God,
And ever, and ever worship God.

These are the words written in 1719 by Isaac Watts based loosely on Psalm 98. Isaac was born locally in Southampton. His father was a deacon at Above Bar Congregational Church (It is still there, rebuilt in the middle of a shopping center. I have been there many times and sat under the feet of Leith Samuel who ministered there for nearly 30 years) John Watts was imprisoned twice for his Dissenter views. Isaac was a precocious child. By the age of 13 he had learned Hebrew, Greek, Latin and French. When he was 15 he complained to his father about the stodgy nature of the hymns at that morning's services. He was promptly told that if he could do better then he had better do so. By that evening he had written a hymn based on Revelation 5

Behold the glories of the Lamb
Amidst the Father's throne
Prepare new honours for His name
And songs before unknown.

Despite being offered a University education he chose to attend a non-conformist Academy at Stoke Newington.(Perhaps Moreton's Academy for Dissenters where Daniel Defoe and Samuel Wesley were educated) Stoke Newington itself is worth a study. Notable residents were Mary Wollstonecraft (buried in St Peter's Bournemouth), author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women and mother of Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, who ran a girls' school with her sister Eliza from 1784 to 1786, and the poet Ann Letitia Barbauld, Andrew Rutherford, an eminent 19th-century researcher on microscopy and microorganisms, and the poet and banker Samuel Rogers. The religious impulse in Newington Green, however, remained strong, and several Christian Missions, including the Mildmay and South Indian, were established in the mid-19th century. The China Inland Mission, on the west side of the Green, was founded in 1872 by missionary James Hudson Taylor.

Isaac became Pastor of Mark Lane Independent Chapel in 1701 by the age of 26, but in poor health he resigned in 1712 and for the next 36 years lived in the home of Sir Thomas Abney, devoting his life to writing. He died in Stoke Newington in 1748, the author of 600 hymns. There is a monument to him in Westminster Abbey.

The tune, "Antioch" was originally called "Comfort" and was published anonymously in The Congregational Harmonist of 1828. It's origin is from Handel's Messiah - the opening chords are much like those of the chorus "Lift up your heads". In 1836 it crossed the Atlantic and was renamed "Antioch" by Lowell Mason, one of the greatest American musical reformers and one of the first to agitate for universal musical education. He was born in Medfield Massachusetts in 1792 first worked making straw hats and then as a bank clerk. All this time he had been conducting church choirs and writing music an eventually he accepted a post in Boston as a Professor of Music and choir leader. In 1835 he received the first honorary degree as Doctor of Music from any American College.

"Joy to the World" is one of the best-known and best-loved of Christmas carols. It contains a message of joy and love replacing sin and sorrow. It may also be interpreted to be about life after the second coming of Christ. The hymn is significant for its widespread use throughout Christian denominations and for the musical stature of the people who created it.

This is the modern version of the hymn:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the world, 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 the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love.

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