"God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform..." William Cowper

Sunday, December 5, 2010

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

"Merry Christmas!"

Where did this greeting come from? And what are we truly saying when we bestow it upon family, friends, and even strangers? This week, with the help of Ace Collins once again, I've decided to dive into the story behind the Christmas carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

During the fifteenth century, songs used by churches for worship were usually dark and serious, often written in Latin. Few church members enjoyed them, for they offered little joy. Eventually commoners started to create their own music without the approval of the church. Many of the melodies were lively, inspirational, and written in plain language.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was one such song. Imagine the church leaders' surprise when they heard this joyful tune not only being proclaimed from the lips of these peasants, but also being enjoyed in dancing.

The unknown writer(s) clearly knew the gospel, which they conveyed in the song. What's more, they were excited about it, determined to share it in a passionate, emotional way.

The carol continued to find its place in the Christmas season for five more centuries. Yet with the evolution of the English language, few of today's singers fully comprehend what the words "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" actually mean.

When this song was written, merry did not mean "happy," it meant "great" and "mighty," as in Robin Hood's Merry Men.

Still, "God Rest Ye Mighty Gentlemen" makes little sense. One last word has a much different meaning in today's world. The word rest in God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen actually means "keep" or "make." And finally, we have how the song was meant to be read: "God make you mighty, gentlemen." Using this translation, this carol makes more sense, as does the popular saying, "Merry Christmas!"

Or should I wish you a "Mighty Christmas!"

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 pow'r

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:


"Fear not," then said the angel,

"Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Savior,

Of virtue, power, and might;

So frequently to vanquish all

The friends of Satan quite;"


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:


But when to Bethlehem they came,

Whereat this infant lay

They found him in a manger,

Where oxen feed on hay;

His mother Mary kneeling,

Unto the Lord did pray:


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:



  1. I love that.

    Wishing you a Mighty Christmas!

    And I'm a fool for dancing. Absolutely love it!
    ~ Wendy

  2. Wishing you a mighty Christmas as well, Heidi!

    I love this series you're doing. It's so fun to learn these meanings.

    Blessings my friend!

  3. Blessings to you, Wendy and Melanie!

  4. I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

    God Bless You :-)