What does the tune to a nursery rhyme have in common with a renowned Christmas song? The carol “Joy to the World,” was written by Isaac Watts, often called the father of hymn writing who produced many classics including “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.”
The melody is credited to two composers: George Frederic Handel, famous for “The Messiah,” and Lowell Mason, a banker, composer and educator who established the first Sunday School for African-American children and wrote the tune for the children’s rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
Watts based the words to the carol on Psalm 98, which reflects the beauty of an adoring creation:
Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise and rejoice, and sing praise.” It is this invitation to sing a new song to the Lord that we find contained in the carol’s second stanza:
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!
“Joy to the World” is a unique Christmas carol in that it can be sung year around. While its words are timely during Christmas, its enduring message of hope, joy, and love is always in season.