Thursday, November 30, 2017

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Luke 1:30

But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.

Luke 2: 10-12

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

When Ben, my boss, asked me what my favorite Christmas Carol was.  I thought for a moment and had to decide between a great tune or words.  I chose words.  But, then I had to decide between "Joy the World" or "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." I finally chose "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."  However, as I went to look for it in our current Methodist hymnal, I was baffled.  It wasn't there.  I was standing next to his vast collection of hymnals from multiple denominations and eras, so I began pulling out different hymnals to search for a copy.  Not a one had that carol in their hymnal!

When was this carol pulled from hymnals?  Was it ever in a hymnal?  Why is it missing?     Was it due to the political correctness?  Couldn't be, because that didn't bother people in centuries before.  Was it the multiple references to Satan?  I doubt that as well.  It was a mystery I had to solve.  Unfortunately, all I found was a graph of years the hymn was included in hymnals.  It was written in the 15ht century by an unknown composer and first published in 1933.  However, it turned into a great hymn study. No other carol, in  my opinion, tells the story better with so many high points of the birth of Christ.

So, let's look at the first line.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, 
remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day.

I'm not a feminist, so I view "gentlemen" as all people.  Can we substitute any other word and make it fit the tune?  I dare say not.  Folk and friends do not find the syllabic requirements.  Maybe people, but I still don't like it.  

"Christ born on Christmas day."  Well, that probably didn't really happen either.  Verse 4 talks about the shepherds feeding their flocks in tempest, storm and wind.  We have to remember these carols were written in medieval times and there are poetic liberties.

But what this carol does do is put Luke's words into poetic form.  The famous story of the shepherds on the hillside and of the angel coming and saying to the shepherds, "Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy!"  This theme is reiterated in the final phrase, "O tidings of  comfort and joy," which is why it is my favorite carol.

The main text of the carol is the title as seen in verse 10--"Do not be afraid."  It's about being strong in the Lord and not being fearful.

Words over the years tend to change meaning and this is the case here.  The original word "merry" means "happy" today.  But the original word "merry" means strong--"God rest you strong, gentlemen."  Just think about Robin Hood's band of merry men.  They might very well been happy, but most definitely, they were strong.

Next, the verb "rest" is to be studied.  The original word "rest" means "to make."

God make you strong, gentlemen.

Wait!  Notice the comma before gentlemen?  Doesn't that change the entire meaning?  The comma is essential.  God make you strong, COMMA, gentlemen.  We are not describing the gentlemen.  It is a command to them.

With this new translation and the comma we can now see how the text is describing the angels proclamation from Luke 2.

God makes us strong because the birth of Jesus is the good news.  Notice in verse 1 and verse 3 the reference to Satan--"to save us all from Satan's power" and "to fee all those who trust in Him from Satan's power and might."  This is the good news that makes us strong in the Lord!

We can also be strong in the Lord because this good news is for all people.  Not just the Jews, but people all across the entire world.

Lastly, we can be strong in the Lord because this good news gives us pure joy!  It's not just happiness; it is deep joy that cannot be shaken by desperate times or situations.  This joy is free is God's free gift and He intends this joy for all of us.  And, this joy gives us comfort.

So, now when you hear this carol on the radio, in the stores, at a concert this Christmas, revel in the fact that God wants to fill you with great joy because he has sent his Son to save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray.  That is the good news to be believed this and every Christmas to come.

Prayer:  God, please make us strong in you.  Make us strong as we reflect on the birth of your only Son who you sent to earth for us.  Make us strong as we remember that we are freed from Satan's power and might as long as we trust in you.  O tidings of comfort and joy.  Amen.

1 comment:

Camille said...

Love that you shared such a wonderful message!