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