Tag Archives: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – God Rest Ye Merry

Ravi Z

Encounters with frigid temperatures and wintry blends of snow and sleet frequent weather reports for many this time of year. Years lived in the pungent cold of Michigan allows me to relate with a shudder, albeit now from a warmer, southern place. But the worst descriptions of the searching, biting cold bring to mind a less personal memory.

“Foggier yet, and colder!” writes Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. “Piercing, searching, biting cold.” The narration continues:

“If the good Saint Dunstan had but nipped the Evil Spirit’s nose with a touch of such weather as that, instead of using his familiar weapons, then indeed he would have roared to lusty purpose. The owner of one scant young nose, gnawed and mumbled by the hungry cold as bones are gnawed by dogs, stooped down at Scrooge’s keyhole to regale him with a Christmas carol: but at the first sound of—

‘God bless you, merry gentleman!

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.”(1)

The irony within this icy picture is not missed on Dickens’s careful detail. In the piercing, wearying cold stands the cheerful caroler while warm and sheltered sits the cold, cantankerous Scrooge.

The contrasting souls Dickens paints in this scene strike with an idea ripe for the reflections of Christmas and a coming new year, particularly for those who enter with greater apprehension than hope. Life often presents the mystery of this caroler. Somehow some of the warmest hearts belong to lives that have been surrounded by the darkest and coldest days. The words of the caroler and the familiar lines of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen amplify the contrast of bleak and merry men:

God rest ye merry, gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Saviour

Was born was born on Christmas Day

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy

Though I thought it for many years, no thanks to Dickens, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is not an address to “merry gentlemen.” It is not because Scrooge was grumpy that the words of the carol are unbefitting. The word “merry” has in fact come to mean something quite different than it did for the first hearers of this hymn. Where it now connotes jollity, it once meant “mighty” or “strong.” Similarly, the word “rest” signified not sleep or relaxation, but the more wholistic notion of being kept or made well. Thus, in more contemporary English, we might most soundly pronounce the title of this carol in the manner of a prayer: “God make you mighty.” What specifically makes us mighty is relayed in the story the song retells:

From God our heavenly Father a blessed angel came;

And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;

How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.

The most cynical responses to the Christmas story—the story of God’s Son born by name—often come from the most comfortable places. Yet for those living in cold and harsh realities, remembering that Christ the Savior was born to save the lost is often much more than a thought that warms them. It is far more like the sun that provides the very capacity for life. Mary’s song, as it is recorded in Luke, could hardly have been sung without the reality of hard times ahead; being pregnant without a husband as a woman in first century Palestine bore the stigma of adultery and the punishment of death. Yet Mary sang because the angel gave her a mighty, terrifying, expectant story to sing about: “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High… And his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:30-33).

The “comfort and joy” promised by the angel and proclaimed in this song is not an outburst of seasonal cheer or a call to passive contentment. Comfort, in the Christian story, comes from the mighty encounter of knowing hope by name, and joy the startling wonder of finding that hope has drawn near. Whether seized in the midst of warmth or darkness, God has made us mighty in the giving of Christ to a bleak world.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Cheswold, Delaware: Prestwick House, 2005), 17.

 

 

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Comfort and Joy

Ravi Z

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is one of my favorite carols of the Advent season.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay,

For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born upon this day,

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we were gone astray:

O tidings of comfort and joy,

comfort and joy,

O tidings of comfort and joy.

The carol reminds Christian pilgrims that we need not dismay since Jesus Christ has delivered us from the “domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:13). And yet, the tune is sung in a minor key. While no expert in music, I love the juxtaposition of a minor key with uplifting lyrics. The minor key reminds me that joy is mingled with sorrow during the Advent season.

The longing and expectation that begins the Advent season, turns to joy as the arrival of the Christ child approaches. Christians rejoice for the tiny baby who will be King; here is joy enfleshed, and our lives belong to his rule and reign. And yet, many who are familiar with this carol, even those who sing its verses, may still feel the power of evil over them, or feel that they have yet to find their way to the manger of Jesus. Some find it difficult to enter into the victory that Christmas proclaims.

For many in our world today, it is difficult to rejoice when all that is experienced is a world in crisis. Many desperately long to enter into the joy promised long ago to humble shepherds: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Those who heard the announcement of the birth of the Messiah knew it signaled the end of exile and darkness, for the coming of the Messiah meant a new age for the people of Israel. We hear this promise sung in psalms: “When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with joyful shouting; Then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:1-2). Great things will be accomplished for the people as a result of the Messiah’s advent.

Yet, these great things were not accomplished without tears of sorrow and mourning. For, as the psalmist suggests, joy and sorrow are inextricably linked. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6). Indeed, the sowing and the seed are the tears of the exiles, tears that bear the fruit of joy. Talitha Arnold reflects on the mystery of suffering turned to joy: “The natural power of God to turn seeds into grain would be miracle enough. But Psalm 126 makes an even greater statement. The seeds are not ordinary, but seeds of sorrow. The fruit they bear is not grain or wheat, but shouts of joy.”(1)

In spite of a world easily consumed by sorrow and sadness this season, those who anticipate the arrival of the source of all joy recognize that the harvest of joy is sown in tears—tears that are redeemed by the one who “for the joy set before him endured the cross and suffered its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus, the joy of the world, was not immune to tears. The “tidings of comfort and joy” would be that God enters our suffering, and is not removed from it. God enters our exile, and offers deliverance and salvation.

We all seek joy in this season, but perhaps we look in the wrong places and in the wrong ways: “This is no jingle-bells joy brought with a swipe of a credit card,” Arnold continues. “The seeds of this joy have been planted in sadness and watered with tears. This is the honest joy that often comes only after weeping has tarried the night.”(2) Tidings of comfort and joy come to us in a person, a person who sowed both tears of joy and sadness himself. Jesus brings joy from tears and fills hearts with gladness at his coming. Weeping may last through the night, but joy indeed comes in the morning.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

(1) Talitha Arnold, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Ed. David Lyon Bartlett (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 60.

(2) Ibid.