God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Savior
Was born upon this Day
To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
Which long had gone astray,
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.
“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, (Author unknown, from lyrics printed and sold at the Printing Office on Bow Church Yard, London, circa 1760).
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself, in His Name we pray. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: (Luke 1:46-46, also called Mary’s Song, or the Magnificat)
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
PRAYER FOCUS: Comfort and Joy
Mighty Christmas, Dear Friends!
Sound a bit odd, does it? Well, it’s what we’ve been singing all these years. Perhaps the word “merry” means more than we may have thought.
Webster’s online dictionary defines merry as: 1) Overflowing with good humor and good spirits; jovial; inclined to laughter or play; 2) Cheerful; joyous; not sad; happy; or 3) Causing laughter, mirth, gladness, or delight.
Merry is a happy word, evocative of images of friends and family celebrating in front of a fireplace, singing and laughing, sporting colorful sweaters and rosy cheeks. But being merry used to mean more…
The word has always conveyed a sense of happiness, but long ago it also meant to be “mighty” or “powerful” or “strong.” Robin Hood’s band of merry men might have been happy, but the adjective descriptor meant that they were a force to be reckoned with. A great singer was a merry singer. A powerful ruler was a merry ruler.
The popular hymn “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” emerged in the 15th Century, in London, and was perhaps the most beloved of the early Christmas Carols. With a catchy and upbeat melody, its lyrics speak in joyful terms of the birth of Jesus. They announce the most positive and encouraging story the world has ever known. It is easy to imagine friends, families and neighbors rejoicing together, singing this carol, even dancing to it.
Being merry meant more to them than simply being festive. Similarly, the word “rest” meant more than a pause to relax; it signified the act of being kept or made well. In more recent times the comma has been moved. God rest you, merry gentlemen doesn’t mean the same thing as God rest you merry, gentlemen.
In modern context we might say, “May God make you mighty, Gentlemen!”
You see, in the context of the times, this carol reflected encouragement to some very dismayed fellows, indeed. Life in 15th Century London was no picnic. Famine and pestilence drove people from the countryside into the city. As the poor flocked to the growing metropolis, social ills came with them. Think Poverty and its handmaidens: Alcoholism, Hunger, Debt, Crime and Punishment, Broken Families, Workhouses for the children. Morality plunged to what were unprecedented lows.
And if the 15th Century gave people access to new ways to ruin their lives, and vices were as close as the end of the street, how much accessible are they to us in the 21st Century?
In our time, one third of humans still lack access to clean water. The specter of hunger will haunt 800 million this very day. Immorality is rampant. Marriage and sex are being progressively cheapened; families are falling apart. Our churches are being targeted, our faith mocked. Drugs and alcohol abuse lurk ever nearer to our precious children. Government leaders and their friends grow rich and powerful while the poor languish. Arguably, the 15th Century had nothing on the 21st Century in terms of dismay.
Like them, we need tidings of comfort and joy.
Suddenly the old carol begins to makes perfect sense. When they sang this hymn, it was also a prayer, born in the midst of poverty and despair. Their hope, and ours, comes from the same place–the coming of Jesus, to save us from Satan’s power.
“Comfort and joy” is not a response to pretty lights and the anticipation of gifts under the tree. Comfort comes from the reminder that the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us; it is the amazing knowledge that He loves us with an all-surpassing love. Joy is the certain knowledge that He is here, with us, now, and will right the wrongs of the world in His own time. In the meantime, in our time, He has asked us to follow Him and to share the good news.
The carol’s last line–bringing tidings of comfort and joy–that’s our job.
So, Christian, let us prepare our hearts and prepare His way. And to the church’s Intercessors, you dear Prayer Warriors, you faithful, irreplaceable servants of the Living God—thank you, God bless you, and may you see the heavens full of His Glory.
It’s Monday Morning. A Mighty Christmas to you! God rest you merry.
For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a son is given,
And the government will be upon his shoulders.
And his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. -Isaiah 9:6