MONDAY DEC. 11
God rest ye merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismayRemember Christ our Saviour
Was born on Christmas DayTo save us all from Satan's pow’r
When we were gone astray
The first line of this carol needs some contextualization in order to be properly understood. The most natural modern understanding of the first line of this hymn is that a speaker is addressing some “merry gentlemen.” However, during the time this carol was written, the reader would have understood that the speaker was addressing some “gentlemen” with the phrase “God rest ye merry.” This phrase sounds odd today, but was common at the time.
In Shakespeare’s plays we see the phrase “rest you merry” in Romeo and Juliet, “rest you happy” in Antony and Cleopatra, and “rest you fair” in The Merchant of Venice. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase “rest you merry” as “grant you peace and happiness.” When read in this context, the first line becomes a prayer or blessing. “God grant you peace and happiness, gentlemen.” This reading reorients the burden for happiness away from us and to God.
The world bombards us with the idea that we should be merry at Christmas. Commercials, stores, sweaters, coffee cups—everywhere you look we are commanded to be merry. And yet, that command to “be merry” can cause people to manufacture false happiness and overlook the true reason for peace. Let’s look at this verse again. It begins with a prayer or blessing asking that God grant us peace and follows with the reason for why we can have that peace: “Remember Christ our Saviour was born…to save us from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” Notice how none of this rests with us. We didn’t have to be merry, we didn’t have to save ourselves, and we didn’t even have to be looking for it. In fact, this all happened “when we were gone astray.”
As you consider this verse today, think about the ways that you are placing the burden upon yourself to do, rather than accepting what God has done. Are you trying to will yourself to have joy and peace rather than allowing Him to bring about joy and peace in your life? Are you trying to earn His favor rather than accepting the gift He already gave in His son? Some of us are very practiced in doing, but not very good at receiving. As a discipline in learning to accept what you have not earned, the next time someone offers to do something for you, let them. Don’t protest, don’t try to pay them back. Just say thank you and accept the blessing that someone wants to give to you. Then consider the blessing that God wants to give you in His son.