“Joy to the World” is probably one of the most sung Christmas Carols of all time. It is one of the Christmas biggies when it comes to carols—up there with “Away in a Manger” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and the one about the reindeer with the nose problem. Often it is the closing number in those big public carol events: it finishes the night with such a high note of joy.

The theme is terrific. All will be right with the world. A king is coming.

And the theme is terrific. The song and musical score promise what we all want—the warm embrace of everyone everywhere. All will be right with the world. A king is coming.

Joy to the World—let the earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room!
Heaven and nature sing!

This is a different kind of king from the ruler of our Commonwealth. I mean, King Charles might be a nice guy and all, but the angels of heaven and the fishes of the deep blue sea aren’t bowing down to him. “Joy to the World” is about the true King of all creation: King Jesus, coming to bring about his rule.

Isaac Watt’s Biblical Theology is at work here as he reads Psalm 98 in light of Jesus Christ. The Lord reigns and all the world celebrates. When? With the coming of Jesus!

Weird but True

But here is what is weird but true.There is a verse that constantly gets dropped. The song has four verses, but popular recitals mostly leave out the third verse: Mariah Carey, nope; Pentatonix, nope; Michael Bublé, nope; Live at the Helix in Dublin, an absolute banger, but still nope; weird collected music youtube channels, nope; really famous Australian church (that shall remain unnamed), nope.

If “Joy to the World” is the most sung Christmas Carol of all time, then this verse is the most dropped verse of all time!

Here is the offending verse 3:

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

Clearly, some people don’t want to sing about the Fall. But leaving it out destroys the whole point of the song. The song has been disembowelled to the extent that there is no point in singing it. None.

Verse 3 tells us about the change we need Jesus to bring. If Jesus comes, but sin still slays us, and sorrows still scar us, and thorns still tear at us, what was the point of his coming?

Our Real Need

The irony here is that Christmas itself demonstrates our need for a saviour. Yes, we might have a wonderful time together. But don’t all families know the heartache of broken relationships? Don’t we all know the pain of separation—remembering love-ones not with us because of sickness or death? Meanwhile, in the wider world, wars and crime go on.

A Jesus who came as King, but failed to deal with sin would simply be a new captain on an already sinking Titanic.

A Jesus who came as King, but failed to deal with sin would simply be a new captain on an already sinking Titanic.

But the real Jesus will come to change the world for the better—in fact, for the best. So let’s sing joy to the world with verse 3.

And, yes, I just said “will” come. Because I think the song probably isn’t about Jesus’ birth at all. Rather it’s about his return—his second coming (here’s a link to a Gospel Coalition article that argues that). This seems particularly persuasive when we read Psalm 98:

Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
or he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

This is why when we look around, there is still a shocking volume of wickedness, woe and waste. What the song and Psalm promise hasn’t happened yet. Jesus’ first coming was to deal with sin. He did this by dying on the cross and taking the punishment we deserve. From that time until now he has been subduing sin and sorrow and ripping the thorns out of one heart at a time.

But as the book of Revelation and other Scriptures make uncomfortably clear, Jesus’ second coming will bring judgement! He’ll return as the King. The slain lamb who sits on the throne will rise to judge the world, end all sorrow, burn all the thorns, and slay all those who refuse to bow before him. And then, all the sabre rattling and sabre swinging will be over forever. The nations will come under his rule. Those in the dust of death will rise again, and death will be no more.

And so, in response, “every heart must prepare him room” That does sound a bit like an English understatement, doesn’t it? Other things in our hearts ought to shuffle over a bit to make sure they have space for him. But you get the point from the rest of the song. All saved humanity will be singing the exaltation of Jesus and all of creation and the spiritual realm will be on backing vocals when he returns. We better get prepared. When Jesus comes the second time, wherever sin and the curse live they will be hunted down and slain.

So then, we can see the problem with ditching verse 3 of Joy to the world. It implies that either there are no problems in our world. Or that when Jesus turns up, nothing will change. Or both!

We need the joy of Jesus coming. And we ought to sing joy to the world with verse 3. Or, we should strike it from our Christmas playlists, just as Jesus will strike down sin and sorrow when he comes.