A lot of religious music used by the church in the 15th century had been written in Latin. These songs were generally sung to sad or somber melodies that didn’t evoke a lot of enthusiasm or joy. So, in their own circles peasants wrote songs of their own using more uplifting religious themes and melodies. Many of these folk songs are what we think of when someone says “Christmas carol.”
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman certainly falls into this category. In fact, this song was such a lively tune in comparison that it was typically danced to as they sang it; and it was easily the most popular Christmas carol of it’s day. In fact, it’s lyrics were actually closer to the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth than many of the songs being sung in the church at the time. Despite it’s popularity among peasants, it would not be published until the 19th century during Queen Victoria’s reign. First printed for the Anglican church, it soon became popular all over the world.
Words change over time. They change a lot. An entire branch of study called etymology (sort of a mash-up of history and grammar) exists that researches the older and original meanings of words that often fall out of use. Though not quite as astute in this branch of study as I would like to be, it holds a wealth of information, and understanding, concerning the meaning of antique language and literature. If you read my previous post you already understand that.
Today when we think of the word Merry we are thinking of a synonym for happy, joyful, or festive. That is the popular use of the word in this present era. However, in the Middle Ages the word meant something altogether different–it was a word used to describe armies, soldiers, and rulers! In Middle Age English it literally meant great, strong, or mighty!
The charge of the song then, when taking into consideration the meaning I previously discussed for rest is God Make You Mighty… In comparison to the downer songs of their day this song was not only a tune of celebration, but for the Middle Age peasants who wrote, loved, and popularized it… it was a battle cry. In fact the seasonal salutation “Merry Christ Mass” was thought to be such a powerful and happy notion to the peasants that it actually influenced the change in the meaning of the word to become what we understand today.
Mighty Christmas to all!
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen…
I’ve already posted about this song once this Christmas season, but it is my favorite holiday tune. So, I want to add a little more by kicking off a short series that focuses entirely on the first line, and title, of the tune.
One definition that immediately jumped out at me was this one:
Now, I’m not saying that this is specifically the definition the unknown author of this darling song was leaning on; but it could be. Especially given the context and the etymology of the last two words in the line (which is what my next two blogs are about).
God rest me indeed.
“Things are terrible. This is bad. That is worse. Our morals are in the toilet. Our minds are in the gutter. Our churches are in retreat.”
Regular sermons, church speak, Christian literature, blogging, social media, and actual face-to-face conversations are flavored with this kind of language on a regular basis. Funny (and by that I actually mean SAD), but I don’t remember pessimism being a Cardinal Doctrine.
I understand that in a lot of areas of public thought and discussion it seems like some of our cherished values are under assault, and they are, although probably not by the overwhelming majority some of us think. But there are three major difficulties with this kind of prevailing message.
1) There are now more Christians on the planet than have lived in all of history up to this point. Current estimates put the number of Christ-followers at around 2.1 billion, a number that is consistently increasing.
2) God is sovereign and that needs no explanation.
3) The Gospel is a message of hope. It is the Message of Hope. It is the Good News.
I realize that this blog seems kind of ironic. It probably comes across like I’m kind of being pessimistic about pessimism (don’t think too hard on that one). I also understand, that all too often I probably get the “woe-is-me” or “woe-are-we” thing going too. But first and foremost the Christian message is one of hope and encouragement.
Jesus said it plainly one day in His local synagogue.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:18,19 ESV
Anointing. Good News. Liberty. Recovery. Favor.
That all sounds a far cry different than a lot of the fearful defeatist drivel we hear, say, and share on a regular basis. Jesus is the hope of the world. Trivializing Him to be a rationalization for our political, private, and pessimistic concerns is a sad kind of twisted reverse idolatry.
Anointing cover you. Good news guide you. Liberty release you. Recovery keep you. Favor find you.
What are you passionate about? That’s not an easily answered question for everyone. In fact, for some, it can be a downright difficult question, especially if they are of a less-than-emotional disposition.
Here are some questions to help further refine this self examination of passion. What are your favorite things to do? What are the hobbies you feel you couldn’t live without? What do you get the most excited about? What do you get the most angry about? What has the greatest influence over your decisions? What do you spend most of your free time doing?
Passion is great. Let me just say that now. I’m not one to advocate a Borg-like, no emotion, purely analytical, approach to life. When tapped and directed, there are few things that can fuel the drive to accomplish more so than passion. However, they can also be dangerous. They can be destructive.
So how do you learn the difference?
For me, it seems in part, that I must begin by rightly deriving where my passion originates. Either I am passionate about something because I have developed a strong sense of belief about that particular idea as a result of my Biblical world-view; or I am passionate about something because of what I think it can do for me.
What is a good example of how that works?
A good example of a passion derived of a Biblical world-view would be my strong emphasis on sharing the Gospel with others. I take that extremely seriously. A few minutes listening to any of my teaching, or browsing this blog will make that pretty clear. It is a passion founded chiefly upon my understanding of the Word and God’s revelation of His desire to work in others.
An example of a more self-centered passion would be my enthusiasm for different kinds of pop-culture. One glimpse into my office would reveal this, as it is covered in Captain America stuff. Obviously there is not anything even remotely spiritually relevant about my love for nearly all things Cap. It is just something I began as a kid and have continued over the years.
So what is improper concerning passion?
Passions become most dangerous when they are focused more on self-gratification than anything else. I love video games. This is another affinity for pop-culture that I began early in life and still cling to. But, what kind of man would I be, what kind of husband, or pastor, would I be if I allowed this self-centered activity to interrupt or overrule the things that I am morally obligated to fulfill in my life. Not a very good one. A bad one actually. I would be disconnected from the people that should be the most important to me because of my drive to engage in this self-centered activity.
I see husbands, fathers, wives, pastors, and students; I see people, who succumb to the skewed desire to live for and gorge themselves on passions beyond propriety. Passions without perspective. Passions given supreme priority.
It breaks my heart. Wives living on Facebook and father’s swimming in football, leaving their children to raise themselves on Disney and DS. We are a people in desperate need of bringing balance to our passion.
God’s good stuff is better than my best stuff.
God’s good, as in the good stuff that belongs to Him, which is basically anything that could really be called good. You know, God’s. Not the contraction. The possessive. Not God+is. Simply God’s.
My best isn’t best enough, or better enough, or good enough, or even really good. And I know for all those pedantic kinds of peeps that last sentence caused much mental woe.
My most well-meaning moments are still flawed if not founded in Him and empowered by Him. What I’m really trying to say here is:
My good is not good at all, and the only way for me to be good, is to be my best, which also is not mine; but His. Confused yet? I am. It will always be baffling and boggling to my poor little brain. I want to understand. I want to get it, yet I can’t.
So rather than ramble relentlessly I’ll just wrap it up repiticiously.
God’s good stuff is better than my best stuff.
The shepherds at those tidings
Rejoiced much in mind,
And left their flocks a-feeding,
In tempest, storm, and wind,
And went to Bethlehem straightway
This blessed babe to find
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is probably my favorite Christmas song ever. I especially enjoy Jars of Clay‘s rendition, but most artists these days when tackling a classic song tend to let a few verses fall on the cutting room floor. The above verse is one not often remarked, recorded, or refrained these days.
Truth be told, we don’t know who even wrote this incredible song. It is first accounted for within a collection of carols from the 18th century. Still, this verse gives me pause to stop and think for a moment.
The tidings at which they were rejoicing, are those which we have recorded in Luke 2: 8-20.
The part that gets me. The part that I think can be so eye opening for you and I is that they left straight away. Luke 2:16 says, “They hurried off…”. There was no debate. They didn’t need a committee of scholars to help them determine, judge, or interpret the objective message delivered by divinity’s messenger. He spoke. They obeyed; and with what would seem to be little regard for their well-being, livelihood, and possessions.
It is a sad fact, and horrible commentary, on the state of faith within our generation that we do not react to the Good News of the Gospel with the same fervency shown by the shepherds. The truth is, we are more concerned with being good shepherds than we are with being good sheep.
Instead, let us learn first to obey, regardless of the cost to self, and then let others follow. Anything less is tantamount to the blind leading the blind. I’m convinced that God is more interested in good sheep than in good shepherds.