Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Day Thirteen: comfort and joy



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!

From God our Heavenly 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.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!

In Bethlehem, in Jewry, the blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger upon this blessed morn,
For which His mother Mary did nothing take in scorn.
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 others doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!

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This is a wonderful song that is so much fun to sing.  It's a bit unusual for a song in a minor key to be so upbeat and cheerful.  When I sing it, I imagine Victorian carolers standing on a street corner -- preferably not too far from a pub, so they can step in and have a little nip of something when it gets too cold outside!

But I also love the words.  They remind me of my favourite moment in Handel's Messiah:  near the beginning, when the Overture is finished and the tenor stands up.  The audience is waiting, breathless with anticipation -- and then he sings the oratorio's first words:

 Comfort ye, comfort ye my people; 
speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem 
and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, 
that her iniquity is pardoned.

"God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," uses the same word, "comfort."  And why is the song's message comforting?  Because Jesus was born "to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray" -- and forgiveness and a new start are available to anyone who asks for it.  No wonder the angels couldn't wait to share this amazing Good News. 

4 comments:

  1. Carols like this are so rich in doctrine and history and encouragement, all without the singer even noticing. It's a wonderfully wrought hymn.

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    1. It is, isn't it? It fits so much into a few words.

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  2. Okay, maybe you can explain something about the lyrics. Why is the comma between "merry" and "gentlemen"? I always assumed the "merry" modified "gentlemen" (and thus should be set apart with a comma as a phrase.) But my church's worship bulletin has it punctuated as you do. "God rest ye merry" doesn't make sense to me as a complete thought. I had assumed that the opening line meant "God rest you" (for God to give them rest/comfort in the middle of their merriment or that God giving them rest gave them merriment/joy). I hope that question makes sense!

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    1. I love punctuation questions! :-) I think "God rest ye merry" is a greeting in and of itself: i.e. "God keep you happy." We don't use "rest" to mean "keep" in that way anymore, of course, but from what I've read, it was a familiar expression in the 1600s or whenever this song was written.

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