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Advent, Day 3, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Tuesday of the first week in Advent leads me to another well-known carol: “God rest ye merry, Gentlemen”, a 19th century carol (probably originally written in the 15th century) made famous by Charles Dickens in his story, “The Christmas Carol”.
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

In Bethlehem, in Israel
This blessed Babe was born
And laid within a manger
Upon this blessed morn
The which His Mother Mary
Did nothing take in scorn
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

It’s interesting that our singing of this famous carol probably misses the impact of what the song is saying. Did you notice the comma in the opening line? 
The song tells the story of Christmas in a beautiful concise way; but the opening line seems mysterious...who are these gentlemen? or better, these “merry gentlemen”?
The meaning is resolved when we go back to "Old" English and understand the differences of the word then to today.
We use the word “merry” as a greeting as in “Merry Christmas”. Merry to us means “happy”. But at the time it was first composed merry had a different meaning. Think about Robin Hood and his “merry men”. They might have been happy, but the word was used to describe them as “Mighty” men. A mighty ruler was a merry ruler and a merry gentleman was a mighty gentleman. 
The other word in that first line that is different is “Rest”. Again we think of rest as sitting back, not doing work; but “rest” to them meant “to make” or “become”. 
Now the first line makes more sense: “God make you mighty, gentlemen!”. 
The carol was a call to Men who would stand with the Good News in the face of a world that was ignoring it.  In my 45+ years of pastoral ministry I have become accustomed to seeing many more women than men involved in the life of the Church.  It is something I long to see changed...not the involvement of women; but the life of Christ more fully lived out in Men.
"God make you mighty, Gentlemen"...Why? Because Jesus was born to save us from our sins and that is a great reason for “comfort and joy”.

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