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Jim McDermottDecember 22, 2022

I know this is going to sound crazy, but “Joy to the World” has never quite worked for me as a Christmas song. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine, happy song. It has cool harmonies to sing. And on Christmas, we have plenty to celebrate. It’s just, most Christmas carols have a tale to tell. Maybe it is about a snowman, maybe it is about a drummer boy, but as we listen to the verses we are taken on some kind of a journey.

“Joy to the World” is pretty much the opposite of that. It is not a story; it is the song that happens when the story is over. And it just keeps saying the same thing in different ways—Jesus has come, he’s the Savior, he rules the world. I get it, I love it, but does anyone else find it to be a little bit monotonous?

One of the things that most surprised me when listening to Maggi Van Dorn and Ricardo da Silva talk with experts about the song this week on America Media’s “Hark!” podcast was discovering that the song “Joy to the World” actually draws its inspiration not from Christ’s birth but his coming at the end of time. Which makes so much more sense. “Joy to the World” is a culmination song: Jesus has been faithful to us, no matter what we threw at him. He has loved us to the end. And now he’s come back for us.

But that is not really what we celebrate these days. Christmas is not about an ending; it is about beginnings. We are on page one here, or maybe the start of chapter two.

I realize this all sounds very Grinchy. (Wait until you get home and see what I did with all your Christmas lights.) I am all for a big song of hurray and also hope for that long-promised day.

But at Christmas, I would rather you tell me about silent nights, sing to me of midnights clear. Heck, share with me about angels singing. Just don’t give us a song that sounds too much like “Mission Accomplished,” because looking around, it is pretty clear it’s not. Something has started, something good, and we are going to be a part of it. But what is it exactly? Wait and see.

For much more about “Joy to the World” and other popular Christmas carols, check out “Hark!” America Media’s podcast about the origins and meaning of popular Christmas carols, with co-hosts Maggi Van Dorn and Ricardo da Silva. And on behalf of us all here at America, have a merry Christmas.

The Hark! team wants to hear your voice! Which Christmas carols would you like for us to explore next year? Let us know in this brief listener survey.

Listen to other episodes from this season of Hark!

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