#679 - "Joy Has Dawned" by Keith and Kristyn Getty
Acclaimed modern hymn writer Keith Getty shares how Christmas carols have the potential to display the gospel of Christ in a unique and powerful way.
In 2011, acclaimed songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty released their Christmas album Joy -- An Irish Christmas. The beautiful collection of hymns and carols is inspired by their Irish homeland, with the inclusion of several reels and jigs creating a unique musical blend for the holiday season. The project includes original hymns the couple wrote, including "Joy Has Dawned" and "An Irish Christmas Blessing," as well as Christmas classics like "What Child Is This?" and "Joy to the World."
I had the opportunity to interview Keith Getty in person before his concert at Cairn University in Pennsylvania about "Joy Has Dawned."
Please tell me the story behind the song.
This song is in many ways where our Christmas music began. Stuart Townend was my writing collaborator and, in many ways, my teacher. We got together to write one song, and that one song was "In Christ Alone." That launched our ministry to write modern hymns for the church. Then we wanted to write songs based on the Apostles' Creed, and we knew we had to write a song about Christ's birth, and the hymn we wrote was "Joy Has Dawned." That inspired a song cycle based around John chapter one, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God," which I think is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry ever written.
In 2008, Kristyn and I had a difficult time. We were thinking we couldn't have children, and we had writer's block. We took a year off and wrote, and that ultimately led to us writing Christmas music because we wanted to be a help to the church, knowing the church needed solos, congregational hymns and songs for choir. We wanted to still fulfill our work to write songs that teach the Bible for the church.
Out of that, we wrote songs for a 30 minute set for the Billy Graham Organization, which spawned a 60 minute set, and then a concert that all came out of "Joy Has Dawned." We're five years out, and now we have a tour called "Joy -- An Irish Christmas." We get to play this set on public television, which is a blessing to share the Gospel on public television, as well as singing these songs in venues like the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and Carnegie Hall.
Which Bible verses connect to the message of the song?
Matthew 1:18-25(NIV): This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.
What's the takeaway message?
The key thing with these songs is that we live in a time in history where there are more Christians than ever in the world, and yet there is more Bible illiteracy than in any prior generation. We thought as hymn writers we could try to teach the Bible through these songs. We decided to write songs that tells the story, and Stuart is masterful at that. We tell the story, and then we explain what the story does. It's all didactic information, and this song explains what gold, and incense and myrrh mean in the context of the Gospel story.
All the classic Christmas hymns have a masterful way of telling the Gospel in the song, such as "O Little Town of Bethlehem," which tell of Christ's death and resurrection along with His incarnation in the amazing lyrics "How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His heaven. No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in."
Even in the evil agenda and corruption of society, Christ came down to be with us. That's the message of Christmas. So much of what inspires us to write hymns actually finds its origin in carols even more than traditional hymns. There is such enjoyment and excitement in celebrating the most improbable thing that is the incarnation of God on earth.
In this season, bringing the Good News in the form of music is also an opportunity to offer a glimpse of what Christmas in Ireland is like for us. Because of the public television partnership, a lot of people who come to the Christmas show aren't necessarily Christians. We are His bride, and we live every moment looking forward to His return. The Gospel is a map of history, and we want to tell the story in a way that is meaningful.
Lyrics: Joy has dawned upon the world,
Promised from creation--
God's salvation now unfurled,
Hope for every nation.
Not with fanfares from above,
Not with scenes of glory,
But a humble gift of love--
Jesus born of Mary.
Sounds of wonder fill the sky
With the songs of angels
As the mighty Prince of Life
Shelters in a stable.
Hands that set each star in place,
Shaped the earth in darkness,
Cling now to a mother's breast,
Vulnerable and helpless.
Shepherds bow before the Lamb,
Gazing at the glory;
Gifts of men from distant lands
Prophesy the story.
Gold--a King is born today,
Incense--God is with us,
Myrrh--His death will make a way,
And by His blood He'll win us.
Son of Adam, Son of heaven,
Given as a ransom;
Reconciling God and man,
Christ, our mighty champion!
What a Savior! What a Friend!
What a glorious mystery!
Once a babe in Bethlehem,
Now the Lord of history.
The Matthew 1:18-25 Bible account really sets the scene for the Christmas story. We are familiar with the story, but these words give some context about how God prophesied that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem, in Micah 5:2, and told us through His prophet Isaiah that His Son would be named Jesus, sometimes called Immanuel, "because by coming to dwell with us, living and dying among us, He would be able to save us from our sin."
As parents of three little girls, we have been so struck by the vulnerability and helplessness of a little baby in a way that has grown our wonder in the humble coming of Christ. And our own love for our children has brought a fresh understanding to all the relationships involved in the Gospel narrative: Mary's love for her Son, God's love for His Son and God's love for the world.
That's the Christmas story. Jesus came to live among us, not as royalty, but in poverty, "with no place for the Son of Man to lay His head." Jesus lived the perfect life that we can't live and died the death that we all deserve so that we could live with Him forever.
We know from Scripture "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" Romans 10:9 (NKJV). Pray along with all your heart to Jesus by singing, "What a Savior! What a Friend! What a glorious mystery, once a babe in Bethlehem, now the Lord of history." Merry Christmas!
Watch the lyric video below.
NRT Lead Contributor Kevin Davis is a longtime fan of Christian music, an avid music collector and credits the message of Christian music for leading him to Christ. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and three daughters.
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