Subversive Carols: Joy to the World

This series will interpret our beloved Christmas and Advent carols not as sentimental songs, but as a challenge to the status quo. Many of these subversive themes are already found in the lyrics, yet are often not pointed out. Enjoy the 12 days of Subversive Carols!

[This will be my final installment of subversive carols. Studying for finals and finishing my first semester at Union Theological Seminary, I was not able to accomplish what I had first projected which was 25 carols; instead, I interpreted 12 carols in the spirit of subversion. For my last entry, I want to interpret the classic “Joy to the World” because it one of the most famous carols in the world. Thank you for reading and you can see the complete list of subversive carols here. ]

“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts

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 earth, 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.

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,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

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

Advent is a time for us to prepare our hearts that God/She may enter. To assist with that, “Joy to the World” begins with a beautiful theological metaphor of God’s love for the world. Acknowledging that the Christmas-event occurred 2,000 years ago, we sing that the “Lord is come,” not “has come,” but “is.” In other words, Christ has never left! And with that, everything in the world and above the world celebrates. This is the subversiveness of Immanuel, God-with-us, the God-who-never-leaves.

In theological terms, this is called kenosis meaning self-emptying. God/She gave up God’s power that God/She might have a body. This body changed theology forever. When we speak of the having God enter the room in our heart, we are asking God/Her that we too may practice our own kenosis. This is why the Earth is rejoicing because no longer are we spilling toxic waste into her veins or mining her skin because we are self-empting and humbling ourselves to become nothing.

Kenosis runs through the whole song. People are singing, and the Earth is sounding with joy. Together we are practicing a form of mutual aid by caring for one another and the Earth. In the third verse, the ancient curse of sin is destroyed when God/She becomes a body. The curses that societies have found in us, of low self-worth, of being a “lesser sex,” of having the “wrong skin color” is changed and transformed. We can live judgment free and love one another with respect and dignity!

Finally, the last verse sings us out with a new version of globalization. We don’t need to trade goods to be good neighbors; we preform this new globalization through justice. Brother Cornel West once said, “Justice is what love looks like in the public.” This song is not necessarily about the US, or us but about the Earth and countries that do not have global power. The joy extends around the world and begins when we practice kenosis and neighborliness.

Joy to the World