Joy to the World (Or, How to Write a Better Song)


Philippians 2:6–11 (NIV 1984)

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


One of the first songs of this season is the anthem, “Joy to the World.” Originally intended to be a song about the second coming of Jesus, subsequent generations adopted it as the theme song of his first coming at Christmas. This classic was penned by the prolific hymn writer Isaac Watts, one of more than seven hundred works created by Watts in worship of Jesus. When he was a young man, he frequently complained about the music he was experiencing in church. He called it boring, hard to sing, and lacking true heart-level zeal. Finally, his father challenged him to stop complaining and do something about it. If you don’t like it, change it. Write a better song.

And, indeed, he did. Seven hundred times over.

While “Joy to the World” is one of the first songs of this season, scholars believe that today’s passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of the first songs of the church. It is quoted in this letter as if it is a hymn or poem familiar to the hearers, an early form of liturgy expressing worship of the Word made flesh. Notice the pattern carved out in the lines. They begin with Jesus in the highest possible place, naming him as being in very nature God. Then, he steps into our story, making his descent into flesh and cross and grave. Then the grand pivot as he is raised up once again in resurrection and exalted glory above all things. This is the Great Reversal of humanity’s story. On the one hand, we knew harmony with God in the garden, but that wasn’t enough. We grasped after equality with him. Jesus, on the other hand, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped.” We were convinced to make something of ourselves. Jesus made himself nothing. While our sin follows a trajectory of fall and brokenness and death, his death pioneers resurrection and healing and life.

In the garden, sin silenced the melody. In Advent, Jesus writes a better song.

And we get swept up in it. We hear the Lord himself rejoicing and singing over us, and we start to pick up the melody again, learning the rhythm, feeling out our part. We join the better song and sing out the anthem of the first Advent and the Advent yet to come, “Joy to world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King.”1


Name above every name, we bow our knee and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


What changes do you long to see in the world? How can you embody that change and write a better song? How is the Holy Spirit transforming you in the pattern of Christ as described in today’s passage?

For the Awakening,
Matt LeRoy


  1. Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World! the Lord Is Come!” 1719, public domain.

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WHAT IS THIS? Wake-Up Call is a daily encouragement to shake off the slumber of our busy lives and turn our eyes toward Jesus. Each morning our community gathers around a Scripture, a reflection, a prayer, and a few short questions, inviting us to reorient our lives around the love of Jesus that transforms our hearts, homes, churches, and cities.

Comments and Discussion

3 Responses

  1. “What changes do you long to see in the world?” I long to see Christ’s Church renewed in such a way the she once again reflects the light of Christ back into a darkened, perverse world. I believe that each and every true follower of Christ has a calling to fulfill, myself included. (Ephesians 4:1-16) If the unbelieving world is able to view the full stature of Christ as revealed in His called out people of God, then many more individuals will respond in faith to the Gospel message. This would bring “Joy to the World “.

  2. Writing a New Song About Christmas

    Doing Christmas
    Without letting Christ
    Live in you
    And continually
    Make you new
    Misses the point.
    Christmas gifts
    And Advent candles
    Can never out do
    The gift of Christ
    Ever living in you.

    Lord, let me see
    And live the victory
    Of Your gift that
    Infinitely surpasses
    Human economy
    And produces more awe
    Than astronomy:
    Jesus Christ living
    Inside of me.

  3. O come, O come
    And set hearts
    That are numb
    Free from glum
    So they can hum
    With the joy
    Of your presence.

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