Question & Story 4th Day Christmas Past

Posted by on Dec 15, 2013 in Christmas Past 2013 | 6 comments

PrintQuestion 4th Day Christmas Past:  What second purpose did the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” serve to early Saints?

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Joy to the World

Text: Isaac Watts (1674 -1748); altered by William W. Phelps (1792-1872; LDS) Music: George F. Handel (1685-1759); arranged by Lowell Mason (1792-1872) Tune name: ANTIOCH

Ever since Emma Smith included it in her hymnal of 1835, this energetic and dignified hymn has been a favorite among Latter-day Saints. Today we follow the practice of the rest of the Christian world in using it mainly as a Christmas carol.

But this hymn has also served a second purpose: it is clear that William W. Phelps’s intention was to adapt it as a millennial hymn. The early Saints loved to sing of the millennium, and with some changes in verb tense—such as “The Lord will come” (rather than is come)—and a few other alterations, William W. Phelps made it suitable for that purpose. It is interesting that Isaac Watts’s original title for the hymn suggests this millennial spirit: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

The 1985 hymnal returned to the traditional verb tense in the opening line—”the Lord is come”—preserving the more common Christmas message. Other changes made by William W. Phelps have been retained, however, such as the line popular among members of the Church: “And Saints and angels sing” (rather than “heaven and nature”).

George F. Handel and Lowell Mason share credit for the remarkable melody. (Note how the first phrase is nothing more than a descending major scale!) How Lowell Mason arrived at the tune is not perfectly clear, but it is possible that he brought together two melodic suggestions from Handel’s Messiah. First was the opening of “Lift Up Your Heads”.

Lowell Mason himself gave principal credit to George F. Handel; when he published “Joy to the World” in Occasional Psalms (1836), he marked it “Arr. from Handel.” We do not know for sure why he named the tune ANTIOCH; he took Bible names almost at random for his tunes.

Taken from: Karen Lynn Davidson, Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1988], 214.

    6 Comments

  1. I love the words to this song. It should be sung all year around not only on Christmas. It is so appropriate for every day we live. It makes me feel so close to our Lord Jesus Christ.

  2. “Joy to the world” was a hymn of hope for the early Saints, as it is for us. It is a reminder that the very earth will rejoice at the Savior’s coming.

  3. Ever since Emma Smith included “Joy to the World” in her hymnal of 1835, this energetic and dignified hymn has been a favorite among Latter-day Saints. Today we follow the practice of the rest of the Christian world in using it mainly as a Christmas carol. hymn has served a second purpose: it is clear that William W. Phelps’s intention was to adapt it as a millennial hymn. The early Saints loved to sing of the millennium, and with some changes in verb tense—such as “The Lord will come” (rather than is come)—and a few other alterations, William W. Phelps made it suitable for that purpose. It is interesting that Isaac Watts’s original title for the hymn suggests this millennial spirit: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

  4. The hymn called Joy to the world was know as “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” Besides being included in the first hymnal, it is an energetic and dignified hymn has been a favorite among Latter-day Saints. Today we follow the practice of the rest of the Christian world in using it mainly as a Christmas carol. The hymnal served a second purpose though, it is clear that William W. Phelps’s intention was to adapt it as a millennial hymn. The early Saints loved to sing of the millennium, and with some changes in verb tense—such as “The Lord will come” (rather than is come)—and a few other alterations, William W. Phelps made it suitable for that purpose. It is interesting that Isaac Watts’s original title for the hymn suggests this millennial spirit: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

  5. The second purpose for, Joy to the World, for the early Saints was it is clear that William W. Phelps’s intention was to adapt it as a millennial hymn. The early Saints loved to sing of the millennium, and with some changes in verb tense—such as “The Lord will come” (rather than is come)—and a few other alterations, William W. Phelps made it suitable for that purpose. It is interesting that Isaac Watts’s original title for the hymn suggests this millennial spirit: “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.” in the end it was a beacon of hope for the saints.

  6. It was William W. Phelps intention to adapt the hymn Joy to the World as a Millennial hymn celebrating the Messiah’s return.

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