Thursday, December 3, 2009

God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen (Part 1)

Good hymns, those marked by sound theology and a fitting match of text and music, have endured because they are timeless and because they are based on scriptural truth. In my view God Rest You (Ye) Merry, Gentlemen fits the description of a good hymn. I’ll begin the consideration of God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen by noting a verse that fuels the sentiment of this hymn-

Matthew 1:21-22 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

This is a wonderful hymn that gets the focus of Advent right by accenting how we may experience true comfort and joy instead of just the superficial, temporal, sensations that come from eggnog and cookie exchanges. The message of God Rest You Merry, Gentleman has nothing to do with Santa Claus, Silver Bells, White Christmases, or Chestnuts roasting. The message of this hymn is the message of Scripture.-In light of sin’s hold on us, Christ is the only source of true comfort and joy.

Little is known about the origin of this hymn. Some argue that references to the hymn- not the hymn itself- appear in 1800, others say the same about 1820. Charles Dickens, in his original script for “A Christmas Carol” in 1842, uses one line from this hymn when a group of carolers try to sing to Ebenezer Scrooge. Of course, nasty old Scrooge slams the door on them so they cannot even finish the first stanza. It is clear, however, by 1843 the hymn was in decent circulation in England. A.H. Bullen wrote in 1885 that it was the “most popular of Christmas Carols.”
I find it amazing that such a great hymn, clearly not written more than 200 years ago, has no clear author. I like what one hymnologist says about this:

“Like the oldest and best worship liturgies, this song is no one’s personal property, time and usage having wiped away nearly all distracting fingerprints of authorship and ‘originality’. Instead, it belongs to all of us…”

Here are the words of “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”:

God rest you 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!

From God our heavnly 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.

“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 pow’r 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 Bethlehem straight way, the Son of God to find.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy!

The application of this hymn’s message comes mainly in the form of contemplating the truth of God’s Word that will hopefully affect the way we live- lives of gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ!

I will consider the particular lines of the hymn in the next installment…


Last Mohican said...

If I must usurp your role in selecting the best Christmas carols but once. Before Christmas Eve slides into Christmas Day I must hear both Silent Night and O Holy Night.
The words and lyrics of the old carol 'O Holy Night' were written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. Cappeau was a wine seller by trade but was asked by the parish priest to write a poem for Christmas. He obliged and wrote the beautiful words of the hymn.
He then realised that it should have music to accompany the words and he approached his friend Adolphe Charles Adams(1803-1856). He agreed and the music for the poem was therefore composed by Adolphe Charles Adams. Adolphe had attended the Paris conservatoire and forged a brilliant career as a composer. It was translated into English by John Sullivan Dwight (1812-1893).
I am sorry but I must burst out and sing "Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! O night divine, the night when Christ was born; O night, o holy night, O night divine!"

Woody Woodward said...

Tuesday I heard Pastor Chuck Swindol tell the moving story behind the writing and music of "Silent Night", this one is my favorite.

Todd said...

I commend you on your selection of a good carol. (Although I like the "sentimental" ones you disparage as well for different reasons).

GRYMG is one of my favorites along with O Come O Come Emmanuel, and What Child is This?

I've noticed that all my favorite carols are in a minor key which I think emphasizes the mystery of the incarnation--the contemplation of which is for me one of the joys of the season.

Major keys tunes like Joy to the Word and O Come All Ye Faithful are great too, but I find them more suited to corporate worship.

O Holy Night is a great also, but it is more of a performance song than a carol (It's not easy to sing), and it has been overplayed for me.