MP Carols: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
GOD REST YE MERRY, GENTLEMEN, LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY REMEMBER, CHRIST, OUR SAVIOUR 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
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 OTHER DOTH DEFACE. O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY, COMFORT AND JOY O TIDINGS OF COMFORT AND JOY
I love this carol. It may feel a bit ‘vintage’ these days – you’re unlikely to hear it streaming over the H&M speakers as you fight the Christmas crowds – but nothing fills me with Christmas spirit quite as quickly as an enthusiastic chorus of ‘Comfort and joy!’ (Isn’t my roommate lucky?)
The wonderful thing about this hymn is that it’s a song about joy. I’ve chosen its first and last verses to focus on here because they are the most well-known and they epitomise the message, but look at any of the seven verses and you’ll see the same ideas repeated over and over again. It’s the chorus, though, that ‘comfort and joy’ refrain, which gets stuck in my head and makes this hymn my favourite.
Listen as you read: A beautiful new version of God Rest Ye from Nicole Sheahan.
‘Comfort and joy’ – I wonder how many people associate God with these things? Christmas, yes, but Jesus? It’s easy to look at the Church and see a taskmaster, even for those of us who love God and know he loves us. Whether it’s shame over our failings, the pressure to always be doing the ‘right thing’, or even just being busy with life – we can lose sight of what the gospel means. ‘Gospel’ literally means ‘good news’!
This carol echoes what the angels said to the shepherds on the night of Christ’s birth:
But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’ Luke 2:10-11
Jesus was introduced to these shepherds as the bringer of joy – for God, this was one of the most important things to tell us about his Son. This song reminds us that God wants to bring us comfort and joy. ‘God rest ye merry’ sounds old-fashioned, but what it means is ‘God make you merry’ or ‘Let God give you joy’.
Christmas, full of family, gifts, and food, is a time bursting with reasons to be joyful, a prime example of all of the things the world tells us will give us comfort and make us happy. And these are good things, certainly – God gives them to us out of his love – but he has also given us his son. I love this carol because it brings us back to the ultimate comfort and reminds us of our greatest joy.
It’s because of this joy that the carol writer declares ‘This holy tide of Christmas / All others doth deface’ and while I might agree (Christmas is my favourite holiday!) I also want to share in Jesus’ joy all year round – which is, if anyone asks, why I’ll be waking my roommate with ‘God Rest Ye’ well into the new year.
Isabel was raised in California and moved to London several years ago. She now studies English Literature as an undergraduate at Durham University, where she loves to play rugby, write creatively, and enjoy a variety of cheese and/or chocolate related activities.