It was a mistake. A naval engineer named Richard Jones was trying to make a large meter that would monitor electrical power on naval ships. As he was working with some tension springs, one of them fell to the ground. It bounced weirdly, first on this end and then on the other, almost as if it was trying to walk. It was a mistake; but as a result, the Slinky was born.
It was a mistake. Ruth Wakefield was mixing a batch of cookies when she discovered she was out of baker’s chocolate. As a replacement, she broke sweetened chocolate into pieces and added them to the cookie dough. She thought the chocolate would melt and she would soon be snacking on chocolate cookies; but instead, the pieces remained whole. It was a mistake; but as a result, the chocolate chip cookie was born.
It was a mistake. An engineer at General Electric by the name of James Wright was trying to make a rubber substitute out of silicon. We were in the middle of World War II and rubber was in short supply and in great demand. During one test, Wright added boric acid to some silicon oil. Unfortunately, the substance he created did nothing to help the war effort. However, when rolled up into a ball, it did bounce incredibly well. It was a mistake; but as a result, Silly Putty was born.
It was a mistake. Isaac Watts was not trying to write a Christmas carol or even a song for that matter! He was working on a book of poems based on various psalms. His intent was to show how these psalms should be read in light of the revelation of Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In short, he was updating the psalms so that we would read them in light of the coming of Jesus’ kingdom; but in so doing, he changed the psalm considerably. Nevertheless, we can still see plenty of bits and pieces of the psalm in his poem. Think of what he did in this way: the New Testament revelation of Jesus is the cookie dough, and various lines (or hints of lines) from the psalms act as the chocolate chips. Psalm 98 invites us to celebrate the coming of the Lord’s salvation and righteousness to the ends of the earth. Watts “translated” that exhortation as a call to celebrate Jesus’ reign and rule over all the earth. Here is Psalm 98. I’ve placed “the chocolate chips” (the lines from the psalms that formed the basis of the poem and are referenced in it) in bold. I’ve also underlined a key word.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
By now you probably know the Christmas carol that was taken from Watt’s poem. Hearing Psalm 98 and the lyrics to the carol back-to-back bring out all the connection points.
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!
Again, this poem was never meant to be sung, nor was it ever designed strictly as a Christmas poem. It was all a mistake, but I am ever so glad because Watt’s poem became my favorite Christmas carol, “Joy to the World!” And why not! It’s a Christmas carol that invites us to share in God’s joy of redemption. It’s a Christmas carol that celebrates Jesus’ reign over all the earth. It’s a Christmas carol that rejoices in God’s pervasive salvation, for Christ’s Kingdom of grace will one day eradicate every trace of the curse and replace the fall with God’s richest blessings. And it calls us to drink in his truth, grace, righteousness and love.
It is my prayer that this Christmas you will find great joy in Christ your Savior and celebrate his kingdom of love and grace. And that your heart would sing of the wonders of his love. Have a merry Christmas! Or better, have a joyous Christmas and then repeat that sounding joy every day of the new year.