“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen”

David Bast

READ : Philippians 4:4–7

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything. (vv. 5–6)

To understand the message of this old English carol, the most important thing to do is to observe the comma in the title. It’s not “God rest you, merry gentlemen.” It’s “God rest you merry, gentlemen.” The gentlemen—and gentle ladies are included, this being 18th-century English terminology—are not merry, as if they’ve had a little too much Christmas cheer. Nor is God being asked to make them rest, as if they’ve all been dancing too hard. The blessing that the carol asks is, “(May) God rest (make) you merry (happy), gentle people all.”

Why should we be joyful, no matter what our circumstances? Because Christmas reminds us of the Good News, “tidings of comfort and joy.” We have been given a Savior, and he changes everything. The apostle wrote a wonderfully ambiguous phrase to the Christians in Philippi: “The Lord is at hand.” The Lord is at hand, meaning he is about to return? Or the Lord is at hand, meaning he is close by us? The answer is, both. That’s why we need not be anxious about anything. Cares may come and go, but happiness is forever, because Jesus is near to us now and Jesus is coming again some day soon.

Someone once asked an old African American preacher if Jesus ever laughed. “I don’t know,” he replied, “but he sure fixed me so I could.”


Thank you, Lord, for making us merry.