Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent 2012



             Most adults remember the Christmases of their childhoods as magical and I am no exception.  When I recall Christmas time during my childhood (circa late 1950s through the early 1960s in Mobile, Alabama), I have a nostalgic (and probably romanticized) picture of that season.  Beginning the day after Thanksgiving, the world seemed to undergo a wonderful transformation.  Homes and businesses were ablaze with colorful decorations.  People seemed to smile more and were friendlier.  And no Christmas was complete without sitting on Santa's knee at Sears, Roebuck, and Company.  Above all, there were the beautiful carols that were heard everywhere through department store sound systems, radio broadcasts, phonographs at home, and during church services at Spring Hill Baptist.  As a child I gave far too much attention to the toys I would receive but the carols always brought me back to the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ and his wonderful message of love and joy.

Much has changed during my life since that magical time.  Belief in Santa was the first to go, and the Christmas shopping season seems to begin earlier every year.  There are some people reading this booklet who may not even remember phonographs!  But one magical memory remains alive and well: the Christmas carols that proclaim the birth of Christ.

My favorite carol remains unchanged as well:  "Joy to the World."  While I cherish the other carols, "Joy to the World" is special to me because both the words and the melody capture the wondrous nature of Christmas, the celebratory spirit that unites Christians throughout the world in observing the arrival of the Christ-child in the town of Bethlehem.  Although I have always loved "Joy to the World," until recently I knew very little about the background and history of the song.  So I conducted exhaustive research (translation: I looked it up on Wikipedia) to learn more about this hymn.

Based on Psalm 98, the lyrics were written and published by Isaac Watts in 1719, and were set to music by Lowell Mason in 1839.  I learned that I am far from alone in loving the hymn since it is the most published carol in North America.  My biggest surprise was that Watts did not write the lyrics to celebrate the birth of Christ but rather to pay tribute to the second coming of Christ.

Watts may have had the second coming in mind when he wrote the lyrics but for me the song will always be about the birth that took place in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago.


Joy to the world!  The Lord is come;

Let earth receive her King;

Let every heart prepare him room,

And heaven and nature sing.

- Joe McNellage


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