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!
We celebrate Christmas–we play music, dance, laugh, hang up festive decorations, feast, and exchange gifts. But for many years, Christmas was a holiday overshadowed by Advent. Advent is all about preparing for the coming of Messiah, much as Lent is about preparing for the crucifixion and resurrection of Good Friday and Easter. Advent can be a joyful time, but it can also be a time of fear, darkness, and atonement. Added to that, Advent comes during the darkest months of the year for the northern hemisphere; the farther north, the darker it gets in December.
The early Protestants, especially the Puritans, feared the admixture of Christian teachings with pagan rituals associated with the Winter Solstice, and in doing so, they smothered much of the joy and celebration that had come to be associated with Christmas. However, certain songs and carols survived. Among these was “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” The title and many of the lyrics seem strange to our modern ears, but the title simply means, “may God keep you merry (or happy, blessed, joyful, even hearty or healthy), Gentlemen (and Gentle Ladies).” It was a blessing sung by peasants (or the local watchman) to their local lords and ladies, but it was also an excellent and joyful summation of all that the season really means. (See more explanation of the origins and meaning of the song here.. https://www.carols.org.uk/god_rest_ye_merry_gentlemen.htm www.acecollins.com/books/storiesbehindchr.html )
Advent IS a good time for reflection and preparation, but it should also be full of joyful anticipation. Christmas, and all that follows, is all that the angels heralded– good news of great tidings. And the Gospel is news of comfort and joy! Not the temporary comfort of a warm fire or the fleeting joy of a delicious feast in the company of merry men and women. Christmas offers the comfort of knowing that Christ has fulfilled the ancient promises– He has come; he has lived among his own; he has defeated death and the grave; he has risen and ascended! There is nothing left to fill the Christian with dismay or terror. It is fear and pain that are temporary–life and peace are eternally promised for those who accept the good tidings!
This life will still hold pain, grief, injustice, and darkness– but it is not inevitable and it will not prevail! God is greater than our most pressing problem, deeper than our grief, wider than our capacity to stray, and more powerful than Satan’s thorniest snares. Christmas Day reminds us of these truths, and allows us to live in true love and brotherhood with those around us, no matter our current circumstances.