Hymn History ~ God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

“…At the first sound of ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen! Let nothing ye dismay! Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog, and even more congenial frost.” ~ A Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens, 1843

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“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

“Fear not then,” said the Angel,
“Let nothing you afright,
This day is born a Saviour
Of a pure Virgin bright,
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“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
The Son of God to find.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy

“And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Saviour lay,
They found Him in a manger,
Where oxen feed on hay;
His Mother Mary kneeling down,
Unto the Lord did pray.
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 other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.”

This traditional English carol has been around for several hundred years, since around the sixteenth century. It was first put into print in 1833, when historian William B. Sandys included it in his book, “Christmas carols Ancient and Modern.” It was after this that the carol became well known and sung.

Many people are confused by the first line of the song, “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” “God rest you merry” and “Rest you merry” was a common form of salutation and farewell in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries among the lower classes. It is used in many of Shakespeare’s plays, several times. Bishop Thomas Cooper listed the phrase, “Rest ye merry” in his Bibliotheca Eliotae, written in 1548, as meaning, “Aye, be thou glad; with peace; or joyful.” (spelling changed for ease of reading) Knowing this, the meaning of “God rest you merry, gentlemen” becomes much clearer, meaning, “God give you peace, gentlemen” Or “God make you glad and joyful gentlemen.” What better to wish, especially during this season that we celebrate the Saviour being humbled, born in a low condition, and sent to save mankind from their sins, than that God would make you glad and joyful!

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