Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Many Christmas Carols have fascinating backstories. The beloved Carol, Joy to the World, has one such interesting history. Isaac Watts, born in England in 1674, was reflecting one day on Psalm 98 and he was greatly moved by the fourth verse, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Watts took pen in hand and wrote a four stanza poem which he entitled, Joy to the World. The words fit the tunes of several hymn melodies of the day. However, many refused to sing the hymn because Watts dared to change the wording of the Psalm to suit his poem.
The second half of the Carol’s story begins with Lowell Mason, born in New Jersey. He was a church musician but realizing he could not make a living doing that alone, he became a banker. Still he continued to develop his musical gifts. In 1836 he wrote a glorious melody that he named “Antioch,” then he went in search for words to accompany his music. He discovered Watts’ poem, Joy to the World, and, as they say, the rest is history. It was an immediate success and remains one of our beloved Christmas Carols.
Perhaps we enjoy this hymn so much because it connects so directly to the message the angel announced to the shepherds on the first Christmas, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Lk 2: 10-11) The birth of Jesus is the good news – the Gospel – of great joy.
As we celebrate our Lord’s Nativity, we recognize that the angel’s announcement, “good news of great joy” is the very heart of our Catholic faith. In celebrating the Christmas Mystery we acknowledge and proclaim that our God is with us; He is Emmanuel. He is with us, redeeming us, loving us, setting us free to receive the gift of His own Life. Our joy should be the characteristic that most defines us as disciples of Christ.
In our world so hungry for good news, so needful of hope and joy may our lives as individuals, as married couples, as families and as Church proclaim “joy to the world” at Christmas and always.
With prayers, warm wishes and the pledge to remember you in my Masses throughout the Christmas Season, I am
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Reverend Ronald W. Gainer
Bishop of Harrisburg