Posts Tagged ‘God rest you merry gentlemen’



When some folks say, “Merry Christmas” they mean, “I hope you have a fun and festive holiday.”

That would be in keeping with the definition of merry:  full of high-spirited gaiety, delightful, entertaining, joyful, and mirthful.

But centuries ago the word merry denoted peacefulness and blessedness.  “Merry Christmas” meant, “May you have a peaceful Christmas” and “May Christmas bring the blessing of God to you” (Christmas by Charles L. Allen and Charles L. Wallis, Fleming Revell Co., 1977).

An old carol highlighted this idea:

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen;

Let nothing you dismay.

Remember Christ our Savior

Was born on Christmas Day,

To save us all from Satan’s pow’r

When we were gone astray.”

Did you pause after the comma in the first line?  Without it, the meaning changes.  The anonymous poet was wishing peaceful, contented, joyful rest to others, as they remembered Christ their Savior.

“Merry Christmas,” then, can be a prayer within a greeting.  Something like:

Oh, Lord, may your spirit of peace rest upon the life of this person.  May he/she experience the blessing of your presence and your joy.”

There are many people around us who need a divine touch, especially during the Christmas season.  The merriment around these folks seems a mockery of their despair.  Perhaps that includes you.  May the prayers below speak a Merry Christmas blessing to you, especially if you are:

Lonely.  Oh, God, wrap a loving embrace of your comfort around those who do not have family or friends with them this Christmas.  I thank you for the promise that you are our refuge and strength, always ready to help when we need you (Psalm 46:1).  Be a warm solace, I pray, to the one who feels alone.

Enduring hardship.  Oh, God, may the blessing of Christmas include grace and mercy for your children who are suffering through difficulty.  Out of your compassionate mercy, ease their burden, and out of your unfailing grace, grant them strength and favor (Hebrews 4:16).

Struggling with painful memories of Christmases past.  Oh, God, shower your tender, loving care upon those with hurts from the past, hurts that cast a shadow over the joys of the present.  Grant them liberating freedom from emotional distress.  May your peace cover those memories, so they no longer cause anguish (John 14:27).

For all of us, Heavenly Father, may the blessing of Christmas include renewed wonder for the indescribable gift of your Son.  Thank you for providing through him the way to eternal life.  Such peace and blessing are ours in that single assurance! 

(art credit:  www.christmasgreetingsmessages.com.)

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As I was decorating the house for Christmas and listening to carols, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” caught my attention. The words proclaim the joyous news of “Jesus Christ our Savior, born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” Yet the tune is in minor key, which gives the song an air of sadness. My curiosity kicked in (it doesn’t take much), wanting to know why the composer would make such a choice.

After a bit of research, here’s what I discovered: This is an old carol, dating back to 15th century England. The composer is unknown, so we have no record of the musical/ lyrical choices he made. However, we can make an educated guess about his motivation, to answer the question why he wrote this carol.

Church music of that time was rather dreary, and sung in Latin. The common folk would never have been allowed to compose music for worship, especially in English. So historians surmise that a peasant wrote this song, perhaps to be sung in his own home.

(May I be so bold as to suggest a woman may have created the song, as a diversion during household chores?!)

Whatever its inception, the carol grew in popularity and soon was sung by many. It remained a favorite through subsequent generations and was finally published in 1833. Charles Dickens even chose the song for a scene in The Christmas Carol (1843):

“…at the first sound of — ‘God bless you merry, gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!’— Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”

Back to the question that began this investigation: Why such a positive message expressed with such a sad-sounding tune? Without much background information to go on, my curiosity has to be satisfied with conjecture. What would be a logical explanation for uplifting words set in a minor-key?

Perhaps the composer was trying to express the dichotomy in which we live.

First, the minor key suggests the sad reality that we live in a world oppressed by “Satan’s power” (from verse 1 of the carol). He is a roaring lion, prowling around for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8) with his lies and temptations. And what do lions choose to prey upon? The weakest of creatures who cannot easily flee.

The second half of the dichotomy comes from the cheerful lyrics, retelling the glorious story of Jesus’ birth. The chorus resounds again and again with “tidings of comfort and joy.” Why? “This day is born a Savior of virtue, power, and might” (from verse 3 of the carol).

And now the icing on the cake. (Or, more appropriately for this time of year, the star on top of the tree!) This Savior of virtue, power, and might is in us! Somehow His Spirit entwines with each of ours. We can experience His comfort and joy, just as the carol proclaims.

Yet there’s more. We can experience His presence. We can rest in His peace, rely upon His wisdom, and go to Him for help and guidance. Not even these seven blessings cover the gamut of His loving-kindness to us.

Now, because our Savior of virtue, power, and might lives within us, we are not weak creatures, who cannot easily flee that roaring, prowling lion called Satan. Jesus, our Lord and Savior, is much greater than he is (1 John 4:4)!

My heart almost skips a beat, just thinking about such astounding realities. With a humbled, grateful, merry heart, I “now to the Lord sing praises” (verse 6 of the carol)–enthusiastically!

Will you join me?

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