Joy: Christmas Caroling

JOY.  Advent 3.  The Christmas tradition of caroling is probably the most recognizable form of expressing joy.  As a young adult, our groups would go around the neighborhood, into rest homes for the elderly, or visit anyone whom was thought needed cheer.  Large Christmas celebrations are assumed to have choirs.  The larger the better seems our motto but then that small group of preschoolers singing Silent Night steals our heart also.  Singing is not unique to Christianity.  It is oral tradition, how we pass along information we consider important, by voice rather than in written form.  The angels sang to the shepherds who probably could not read!  Carols written in Latin about the nativity go back to the 4th and 5th century, piggy-backing on existing local songs but it was in the 16th century with St Francis of Assisi that carols were brought in to Christmas services.

         Traditionally, Christmas was a season of penance, like Lent, to prepare for baptism and thus was thought to be a serious time.  The joyful songs challenged tradition and spread across Europe, becoming very popular.  We see a similar mix today as “I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus” is played right next to “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  Some feel a sense of dissonance at this but music springs from many inspirations.

         Caroling has multiple explanations too.  Did it start in feudal times when poor people sang for their supper or did it arise when churches were reserved for the “serious”?  We don’t know.  But perhaps we can all agree that “quarantining” or staying home this year has deeply impacted our love of communal rejoicing through song and through caroling.  Zoom is not quite the same.

         “Joy to the World” is the song that seems appropriate for Advent 3 whose theme is joy.  It is one of the most published hymns in North America.  As I looked up the history of the song, I was surprised to find that Issac Watts who wrote the poem in 1719 was not inspired by the Angels in Luke’s Bethlehem perspective.  Watts was going through the Psalms of David and writing a poem for each one and then connecting it to the New Testament.  Psalm 95 refers to the coming of the King and Watts was originally thinking of Christ’s return, joy – the king is come, the savior reigns, no more sin or sorrow, rule with truth and grace.  The hymn actually summarizes Advent and waiting for the child who was born in Bethlehem, who is sung about today and active through the Holy Spirit, and who will return and reign.

         Perhaps this is not your favorite carol but the challenge of joy today is to dwell in the lyrics of a “carol” that does bring joy to your heart.  The upbeat melodies of all carols certainly help balance the somberness of the news and the issues we face in our world.  Dwelling on the words of Joy to the World lift my heart and I pray the words lift yours.  We may quarantine but we are not alone and God promises a better future.  Blessings.

Joy to the World


Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing

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

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
And glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders of His love
And wonders, wonders of His love

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