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Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Joy's Lost Verse

     One or more adult contemporary radio stations in every major market switches to non-stop Christmas music sometime between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. While I am not by the dial to experience this transition, I believe it to be true. This is not a criticism. I like Christmas music just fine, or I should say I like Christmas music in December. So when a Study of Hymns came to my inbox, I opted to set aside this week to tackle it.

The first assignment was Joy to the World. Not the Three Dog Night version from 1971, but the traditional hymn by Isaac Watts published in 1791. This is no accidental transposing of numbers, just a mere fluke. I can assure you the songs have zero in common. I am very disappointed in myself for bringing up the 70s rock band at all. Let me get back to Christmas.


It might surprise you to learn that Watts did not write Joy to the World as a Christmas Carol. I mean, did they even celebrate Christmas back in 1791? In all seriousness, he wrote Joy as a celebratory hymn with minimal accompaniment. The music we now associate with Joy came from Lowell Mason in 1848.  


The study asked that we consider the lyrics alongside the words of Psalm 98 and portions of Psalm 96 and Genesis 3. As with many hymns; the words are from or inspired by scripture. Phrases like the Lord is come! The Savior reigns and the Wonders of His love are full of praise.


It caught my attention that most modern recordings eliminate the third verse of this well-known hymn. One might assume time constraints led to the omission, but the theme and content made this a safe choice. The lyrics of this stanza do not rouse JOY. Words like sin, sorrow, infesting thorns and curses feel more like a car wreck than a sleigh ride. Everyone sing with me:


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, far as the curse is found.


Watts draws from Genesis 3:17-18: 


“And to the man he said, “Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you.  All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.  It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.”


This is no Holly Jolly Christmas.  


It is not surprising the verse gets overlooked. But should it be? I don’t believe so. We need to hear it. We need to feel a little uncomfortable. Humanity was so bad and outlook so poor that God had to straighten things out in glorious fashion.


“He Comes to Make His Blessings Flow.”


Meaning Christ came to remove the curse, the thorns, sins and sorrow. Christmas is about little else than the birth of Jesus Christ. And it is worth Celebrating! This is a heck of a lot better than a new iPhone or pair of slippers. Don’t you see. We must celebrate his coming to earth. To save us. Without this we would remain forever in that bleak cursed world.  


So celebrate the truth of Christmas. While we exchange billions of gifts on this special day, the only one of eternal value is already yours.


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace