Tidings of Comfort & Joy
One of the oldest recorded Christmas carols is ‘Tidings of comfort and joy’, dating back to 1650. It’s been popular throughout the years, making its way into novels and movies and of course covered by countless musical artists.
I’ve always found the opening line quite peculiar though: ‘God rest you merry gentlemen’. Is that about a post-Christmas lunch nap?
I think I’ve missed how meaningful this line is because of punctation. You read that right! You see, the whole message in the song depends on where you put the comma!
Earliest versions of the carol have:
‘God rest you, merry gentlemen’
Later versions have:
‘God rest you merry, gentlemen’
That’s a big difference! The first version makes me wonder what a ‘merry gentlemen’ looks like, the second gives a glimpse of the gospel!
The historical meaning of this ancient English language is this:
‘May God give you rest’
‘May God give you peace’.
That sounds better to me! However to really get to the intended meaning of the song it’s probably useful to know that:
- ‘Merry’ doesn’t mean ‘glad’, but rather ‘brave, strong, or valiant’, kind of like Robin Hood and his ‘merry men’.
- ‘Rest’ means ‘make’!
Confused? Here’s how we should understand the opening line:
“God make you strong and valiant, everyone”
Now the second line makes more sense:
“So that nothing will dismay you”
What would make someone strong, so that nothing would dismay them?
What is it that brings peace or rest in the face of the struggles of life and our own repeated failures?
“Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day.”
Remembering Christ our Saviour, born on Christmas Day, is how we are made strong and valiant, so that we won’t be dismayed!
Amazingly, the essence of the whole gospel is here in the opening verse of this carol:
“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 fact you could say ‘tidings of comfort and joy’ is another way of saying ‘the Gospel’, because ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’!
Thats the intended meaning behind this ancient Christmas Carol (you’re welcome!)
While this is not my favourite Christmas Carol, from a musical point of view, it now has a lot of meaning to me, especially in December 2021.
I realise that this has been another extraordinarily difficult year. There has been much to leave us dismayed.
My deepest prayer for you, beloved RUC, is that as we approach Christmas Day, the ‘tidings’ of the story of Jesus our Saviour would ‘make you strong and valiant’.
Thank you for being part of our Church family in some way through this difficult year. As a Church we’ve been able to look back and recount the incredible faithfulness and evident grace of God in our midst.
For some of you that view may be personally obscured due to unfortunate events in the year. Our sincere hope is you experience the covenant faithful love of God in Christ through this season, into the new year.
May the remembrance that Christ our Saviour was born bring you strength this Christmas Day.
- 8:00am (Online and in person)
- 10:00am (in person only)
There will be a special children’s talk in both services so children are welcome to join their parents.