Clergy Clatter

At a Christmas gathering, Marcia Cronin and I got into a discussion over popular Christmas carols. She told me the following story about “Joy to the World.” It has to be shared, so in Marcia’s words, here it is. Enjoy!

“Joy to the World” always brings a smile to my face, both for the joy and exuberance of the song and because of a family memory from long ago. My dad, Maynard Mangum, was a Baptist minister and a well-read Biblical scholar. He taught Bible study classes in the churches he pastored and sometimes in the local colleges. Once his studies got him in a bit of trouble with my mom. He researched the history of “Joy to the World,” it being one of his favorite carols. Even a bit of online research quickly reveals that what we now consider a Christmas carol was not written for Christmas. There’s no mention of shepherds, wise men, the star in the East, angels, a manger or even baby Jesus. Isaac Watts, a prolific and celebrated hymn writer, published the text for “Joy to the World” in 1719 as part of his collection of poems titled “The Psalms of David,” each verse based on a psalm. “Joy to the World” is from the second part of “Psalm 98,” but Watts didn’t stick to the Old Testament. He sought inspiration from the New Testament accounts of Jesus. The lyrics are not so much about Christ’s birth as his return, some scholars say. These lines – “Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!” – can be interpreted to refer to not only the birth and life of Jesus, but also his death, resurrection, and the promise of salvation. My dad, therefore, thought it would be appropriate to have the congregation sing “Joy to the World” to end the Easter service one Sunday morning. That would’ve been joyous. Except, my mom’s mother, who was visiting for Easter and not in good health, was seated on the back pew at First Baptist Church, Elizabeth City. Near the end of the service, she suffered a mini-stroke. Just as my dad told the congregation to stand and sing “Joy to the World,” the ambulance crew arrived to load his mother-in-law onto a stretcher and carry her out of the church. My dad couldn’t see what was happening from his vantage point at the front of the large sanctuary, but he definitely heard about it later. The only reason he wasn’t permanently in the doghouse with my mom (and her mom) is that the song was printed in the bulletin in advance. It was not a spontaneous celebration of joy related to his mother-in-law’s misfortune. I still smile when I hear the song. Joy!


January 1, 2022


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