As a child, I spent many a sermons flipping through the hymnal looking for fun songs.  Before that frown starts crossing your face, please know we didn’t have children’s church and I thought my hymnal games were much preferable to my usual pastime of pinching, poking and otherwise harassing my brothers.

Back to the story…I had my favorites list and when I would ask about where they came from, they all had a common theme.  In a slightly hushed voice whoever I asked would tell me a secret.  “That was actually a popular bar tune of the day that Martin Luther rewrote.”  Bar tunes?  Church?  My little brain did not compute.

In History class, a little bit of it started coming together.  Here it is in a nutshell:  prior to the 1500s, the only Bibles available were written in Latin.  Church services were conducted in Latin.  Thanks to some great men like Martin Luther, William Tyndale and John Rogers, the Bible was translated into the language of the people.  However, even with this, very few people knew how to read much less had the disposable income to actually purchase a Bible.  And so, the grand tradition of taking popular bar songs and rewriting them to share ideas about Christianity arose.

The Fifteenth Century was a rather dark time in Europe.  The church was a political football, yet even in this climate, God’s message was being taken by learned laymen and spread among the countryside.  It is assumed that one of these laymen took the entire gospel and wrote it into musical form in a song we still sing today–God rest ye merry gentlemen. 

Now, when we first hear the lyrics, we think it means–Hey you happy people, take a load off.  It’s Christmas.  Celebrate.  However, to the people of the Fifteenth Century, it meant something entirely different.  In the vernacular of the time, merry meant mighty or strong.  A fierce army was a merry army.  A great ruler was a merry ruler and even Robin Hood had a band of merry men.  Mighty Christmas!  But there’s more…

Rest to the men of the 1400’s did not mean to take a nap.  Instead, it meant to “make or keep.”  The final key comes in the addition of a comma.  Shut the front door!  Listen to the “translation” into today’s language:

God MAKE  you MIGHTY, gentlemen

Let nothing NOTHING you dismay (bring you down or make you fearful)

Remember Christ, our SAVIOR was born on Christmas Day.

To SAVE us all from Satan’s pow’r

when we were gone astray

Oh tidings of comfort and joy…

 

Suddenly, this sweet carol is almost a battle hymn designed to get you fired up and every time you sing it you are encouraging others to become STRONG through Christ.  Go on and read all of they lyrics.  It was a full presentation of the Gospel for a generation that even if they went to church could not understand what was even being said.  God’s creativity is so amazing. When Jesus returned to Jerusalem for the first time, there was a crowd that followed him joyfully praising the Lord–in loud voices.  The Pharisees started rebuking the group and Jesus replied, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).  That is exactly what happened in the Fifteenth Century Church.  The Lord used bar tunes to transform generations to come.

So, this Christmas, keep your eyes open.  See the ways the “rocks cry out” and wish everyone a MIGHTY, tranformative Christmas!

 

Deanna is a wife, mother and life group leader who daily lives in the Grace of God's Goodness. She also loves alliteration and a good, long run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deanna Duncan is a wife, mother and life group leader who daily lives in the Grace of God’s Goodness. She also loves alliteration and a good, long run.

 

 

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 affright,
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