When we speak of classic Christmas carols, God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman has to make the list. Although it was celebrated in Britain in 1833, it is thought to be hundreds of years old. It was composed to teach the mostly illiterate masses about Christian sentiments during the holiday season. It was a teaching tool and a way to spread the message of the gospel.
The lyrics are thought to date back to the 15th century, where some of the word’s meanings are different from today. For instance, “rest” then meant “keep,” while the word “merry” would have indicated a strong individual. When we modernize the title God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, it becomes “may God keep you gentlemen strong.” You can just picture this song being sung to encourage people during the season that God was present, able, and willing to strengthen and protect them by His grace and might. It makes sense why this song has remained popular these many years.
This carol really underscores the power of Christ and what His arrival means to all who embrace Him. It is referred to in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in 1843. In Dickens’ classic tale, at the first sound of – “God bless you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay!” – Scrooge seized the ruler, sending the singer fleeing in terror. It is fitting that God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman would become so closely associated with Dickens’ work depicting the story of hope and redemption in the life of a hate-filled man.
The song begins with a call to remember “Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day” to bring salvation. The song proceeds to outline the birth of Christ and concludes with a challenge to sing praises to the Lord, “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.” The real birth of Christ ushered in His redemptive work on the cross and victorious resurrection. Those who turn to Him for salvation genuinely walk in His power.
Peter, writing of the redemptive work of Christ, proclaims:
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:17-21).
The passage calls those who acknowledge God as God and Christ as Lord to live holy lives in Him. We ought to live in awe of God, desiring to walk in His strength and leading.
Believers have been set free from Satan’s power, or the power of sin. By Christ’s blood, which is of considerably higher value than “silver or gold,” by the precious sacrifice of the “lamb without blemish or spot,” the penalty of our sins has been paid. To save all people through Christ, this plan of God was established “before the foundation of the world.” From Christ’s birth until His Second Coming, people have the opportunity to find salvation in Him. Because God began and completed the plan of salvation, our faith, and our hope of sharing in the resurrection are based on Him.
The birth of Christ offers us confident hope that we can be redeemed in Him, that we can indeed be found strong in Him, and love others as we become like Him. This is only possible by the power of Christ ushered in by our Savior’s birth allowing us to sing, “God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember, Christ, our Savior, was born of Christmas day.” Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!