In the time of English minister Isaac Watts (1674-1748), religious hymns used texts directly from the Bible. To Watts, this made hymns remote from the lives of congregants. “To see the dull indifference,” he grumbled, “the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.” So he set out to write hymns of a more direct and emotional character. His text “Joy to the World,” published in 1719, became his best known hymn. (The melody isn’t by Watts, and its origin is unclear.) Curiously, it never specifically mentions Christmas or the birth of Christ—some believe Watts was instead referring to the second coming. But whatever its true intent, it’s now one of the most popular of Christmas carols.
(Audio file generated by Finale Music Notation Software.)