Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Joy to Twelfth Night and on...

Joy to the World,The Forgotten Meaning of Christmas by Isaac Watts and Paraclete Press is an old poem with a new look, available at Watts (1674–1748) was a Noncomformist in England, a pastor and one who had been a poet since childhood. He wrote about 750 hymns, some of which are still popular and we sing them in our churches today.

Probably the best known hymn by Isaac Watts is Joy to the World. His poetry and hymns were known and popular both in England and in America. It may have had other music in England, but this particular poem was put to music in 1839 by Lowell Mason, an American musician whose name is familiar to any who notice who wrote that music as they read or sing through their hymn books. Paraclete counts Joy to the World as “the most popular Christmas hymn in the world.”

In 1719, Watts was finishing up a project of his to “retranslate” the Psalter into modern use. He wanted people to sing the words of the ancient Psalms in everyday English. Watts was not attempting to “rewrite” a part of the Bible, as some claimed, but rather, he hoped that hymns like Joy to the World would inspire people and encourage them to praise God. He had not thought of it as “a Christmas hymn.” Watts “intended his hymn to be about the second coming of Christ the King,” based on Psalm 98. He might be surprised to hear it called one of the Christmas hymns.

The first four chapters of this little book each use one of the first lines of the four verses of the hymn as a heading, followed by comments by an anonymous writer/editor on the birth of the Christ child, the coming of sin into the Garden of Eden, Christ’s death on the cross, his resurrection, his presence at the right hand of God the Father, and his coming again to judge as King over all. The final chapter is called “For the Twelve Days of Christmas,” and includes brief Scripture passages, plus reflections on Christ the King from the sermons of Isaac Watts. There is no name of an illustrator but the illustrations are appropriate and beautiful on every page.

—Lois Sibley

Friday, December 13, 2013

Three Carols, Story/Songs for Kids

These three carols have been sung and enjoyed for many years at Christmas time. Now, sisters Marcia Santore and Jessica Salinas have put together these old carols with some typical characters to bring the stories to life as they might be lived today.

Published by Forward Movement and available at, the first is a modern retelling of Good King Wenceslas. The story shows how today a man and his son could help someone who has lost his job and is now homeless, just as the king helped people in his day. Jessica tells the story while Marcia does the illustrations. There is the extra benefit of having a version of the carol that kids could play on the piano. Marcia’s husband Jonathan, who is a composer, joined in the project with his arrangement of this carol.

The Snow Lay on the Ground is another old carol that is fun to sing. From an English 19th century Christmas carol (author unknown), this is the story of the birth of Jesus. Probably no snow in Bethlehem, but children singing in England knew and expected snow at Christmas. The story is illustrated by Marcia with the same characters mentioned above as created by Jessica. The characters are typical of people from various cultural backgrounds as they act out the Christmas pageant together. The surprise on the back inside cover is a simple arrangement for piano by Jonathan that children may enjoy playing.

The third carol is In the Bleak Midwinter, originally from a Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti. Again the same characters, good friends by now, join together at one of their homes. Snow on snow on snow almost overwhelms them as they try to think of what gifts they would bring to the Christ Child, if they had opportunity. One of the children would bring a lamb, but each would “do his or her part....[deciding to] give him my heart.” Those children who still have music lessons at school will be pleased to find Jonathan’s double page arrangement for piano as well as a fingering chart and instructions for playing this carol on a recorder.

—Lois Sibley