Each day until Christmas, I am going to write briefly about a Christmas song I enjoy. Because I can, that’s why. And I an unabashed corny dork.
A classic. It has been argued that one of the reasons that Christianity spread through the Roman Empire where other mystery cults struggled was that Christianity offered a very clear sense of offering an afterlife reward to everyone, regardless of their social status. It gave simple rules to follow and that anyone could follow — and once they did, they were promised paradise. Now, of course, nothing is ever that simple, but that sense of relief, of finally having a way forward in a terrible time, does seem to have been a factor in the spread of Christianity. This carol captures that sense, that finally, someone is on your side. That is further reinforced when you remember that merry is not modifying gentlemen here. Rather, the phrase in its entirety means “May God grant you gentlemen peace and happiness.” The sense of relief and happiness is palpable in any good version.
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 power when we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy;
O tidings of comfort and joy.
In Bethlehem, in Israel, this blessèd Babe was born,
And laid within a manger upon this blessèd morn;
The which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.
From God our heavenly Father a blessèd angel came;
And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same;
How that in Bethlehem was born the Son of God by name.
“Fear not, then,” said the angel, “Let nothing you afright
This day is born a Savior of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him from Satan’s power and might.”
The shepherds at those tidings rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding in tempest, storm and wind,
And went to Bethl’em straightaway this blessèd Babe to find.
But when to Bethlehem they came where our dear Savior lay,
They found Him in a manger where oxen feed on hay;
His mother Mary kneeling unto the Lord did pray.
Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.
God bless the ruler of this house, and send him long to reign,
And many a merry Christmas may live to see again;
Among your friends and kindred that live both far and near—
That God send you a happy new year, happy new year,
And God send you a happy new year.