Let Earth Receive Her King

BECKY KIERN|CONTRIBUTOR

Joy to the world!

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 heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, 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, 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, wonders, of His love.

-Isaac Watts, 1719

Everlasting Joy

Sometimes things become so deeply embedded in the zeitgeist, the cultural experience, that we forget its intended meaning or purpose. A quick search on Spotify for “Joy to the World” shows recordings by everyone from Mariah Carey to Kenny G, Ella Fitzgerald to George Strait. There is no doubt that for years this song has been a beloved Christmas staple, embedded in American culture. I have to admit a smile comes across my face when the beauty of the redemptive promise blares at unsuspecting shoppers during the holiday season. As “Joy to the World” begins to be played on airwaves, in commercials, and sung in our churches, it is good to take a moment to ask what was the songwriters original intent?

Let Earth Receive Her King

Writing at the beginning of the eighteen century, a time when most church worship centered around the poetry of the Psalms, Isaac Watts’s “Joy to the World” finds its roots in Psalm 98. This uncredited psalm of praise, found in book four of the psalter, centers around a joyous celebration of Yahweh’s kingship. The Lord, Yahweh, has “made known His salvation” (Ps. 98:2), “revealed His righteousness” (Ps. 98:2), and “remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps. 98:3). Yahweh’s faithful righteousness thus produces “joyous song and praises” (Ps. 98:4) in “all the earth” (Ps. 98:4).

Although not originally written as a Christmas or Advent hymn, “Joy to the World” becomes arguably the perfect Advent song. Advent originates from a Latin word meaning “to come to” and Watt’s hymn speaks of the joy which can be found amid our expectant longing. He uses his poem to acknowledge the depth of the sinful curse which is present, while encouraging each of us to look with hope to the day when the King will return and make His redemptive promise, His eternal defeat of sin and death, known to all the earth. These weeks before Christmas Day known as Advent provide a season for us to slow down, to acknowledge and reflect on the expectant longing we experience daily as we wait for King Jesus “to come to” us once again.

And Heaven and Nature Sing

In His kindness the Lord has revealed His righteousness to us in His Scriptures and through His Son. He not only created the world, He continues to sustain it, to rule the world with truth and grace, as we wait with eager, hope-filled expectation for the day when earth will receive her King—for the day when heaven and nature will join together as the Psalmist encourages to sing “joyous song and praises” in “all the earth” (Ps. 98:4).

Psalm 98 (ESV)

Oh sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

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
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the LORD, for he comes

to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.

 

Editor’s Note: Becky Kiern recently released an Advent devotional titled, Let Earth Receive Her King. It contains 25 days of guided Bible reading, Prayer, and Reflection. Chapter excerpts and purchase information can be found on her website at https://beckykiern.com/advent-devotional

About the Author:

Becky Kiern

Becky Kiern is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary who has served in staff and lay leadership roles in multiple churches. Currently living in Nashville, TN, she enjoys teaching the Bible at retreats and conferences, developing church leadership and writing Bible study curriculum. She is the author of Our Light and Life: Identity in the Claims of Christ. Her other works include contributions to Co-Laborers, Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation, Christ in the Time of Corona and Beneath the Cross of Jesus: Lenten Reflections. Becky has also been an adult cardiology RN for nearly 15 years. Above all her favorite roles are that of friend, sister, and auntie.

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