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God rest ye merry

The position of a comma is not unimportant, and ye old ‘grammar check’ cannot be relied upon to detect the subtleties found in such things as songs and poetry. So in the first line of the famous Christmas carol, which is it: ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’, or ‘God rest ye, merry gentlemen’? The position of the comma leads to two very different understandings of Christmas.

The correct position is ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’. It refers to a state of being at peace with God, reconciled to him, forgiven by him, and ‘saved from Satan’s power’. It’s a lovely expression, and a lovely experience to have a merry rest through Christ in heart and mind, and really is the essence of the Christmas message.

The hitching of the word ‘merry’ to ‘gentlemen’ leads to a different sort of Christmas, the sort of Christmas found in the world of Dickens, where there is peace and good-will among merry gentlemen, and a world of reformed scrooges and rejoicing tiny Tim’s. And who will argue that such a world is not to be desired? Except that it is more conceptual than experiential, and more what the world longs to be, than what it really is.

Scrooges are rarely reformed by scary ghosts, but can be by the Holy Ghost. And men are rarely made gentle by the season’s pressure to acquire and accumulate. The merry rest for which the world yearns comes not from having things, but from having Him, whose name gives the season its meaning.

DM 1st December 2015

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