One song stuck out to me this Christmas season. It presents such a strong message of the gospel, and yet I’d always overlooked it before. It’s “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” For many years, I’ve seen this as a fairly lightweight song about getting rest and being happy. Admittedly that didn’t fit great with all the other lyrics, but I just missed the point. It turns out it’s a language issue, and I love those.
Specifically, two words have shifted their meaning in English over the years which caused me to greatly misunderstand this song. First, the word “rest” was originally related to “restore.” It has a sense of remaking, of “once again, making.” Second, the word “merry” didn’t originally mean “cheery.” It meant ” strong, mighty.” In addition to the definitions, the sentence is in sore need of a comma. I always read it “God rest ye, merry gentlemen.” I was wishing on these happy gentlemen that God would grant them rest. But we need to move the comma to “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” With all the changes, I’m actually asking that God would once again make these gentlemen mighty, to restore their strength. This is a very different song lyric.
So when we get to “let nothing you dismay,” we’re not saying “be happy, don’t let anything bother you.” We’re saying, “I know you’re tired and weak, but God will restore your strength, so you do not need to fear.” I never connected to the “merry gentlemen,” but I do understand being tired and weak and needing restoration. This is the person for whom God sent his son “to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” This is the person to whom God is bringing comfort and joy.
So if you are tired, if you are weak, as we move away from Christmas, remember that God is a restorer. My prayer for you as we move forward is: may God rest you merry, gentlemen and gentlewomen.