It’s mid-December, and the radio airwaves across this country are teeming with romantic Christmas tunes and cheerful holiday songs. Let’s all “Deck the Halls” for a “White Christmas” while enjoying a magical “Sleigh Ride” to the merry sound of “Jingle Bells.” As Andy Williams sings to us every Christmas, “It’s the hap-happiest season of all.”
Only it isn’t for a lot of folks. For many, Christmas is a reminder of failed families, lost loved ones, and struggling finances. (Right about now, Joe Martin is asking, “Where exactly are you going with this, Sterling?”) However, as Ecclesiastes teaches, “There is nothing new under the sun,” and our modern problems at Christmas are not unique to our generation.
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” dating back to the 16th century, is an example. The message of the carol is sometimes mistaken, thanks in part to its archaic language and ignoring the placement of a simple comma. Too often, the opening line is thought to be about “Merry gentlemen.” But it is actually a word of encouragement and blessing to people in distress.
Consider a slightly more modern way of stating the opening line: “May God keep you pleasant and bounteous, people everywhere.” The lines that follow make the intent of the carol clear: Do not be dismayed. Jesus was born to rescue us from the power of Satan, which led every one of us into sin. We sing the Good News (“tidings”) of comfort and joy.
You don’t sing “Let nothing you dismay” to the happy and carefree. That’s something you say to people in pain. Similarly, you don’t offer “comfort and joy” to the comfortable and joyful, but instead to the afflicted and mournful.
Subsequent stanzas of the carol celebrate specific events of the Christmas story, but each stanza returns to the blessing that can only be found in the Gospel of Christ. So, rather than shy away from the sadder realities of life at Christmas, this wonderful carol counters them head-on with the comfort and joy of the Gospel.
But like I said at the beginning, it’s mid-December. Before we know it, Christmas 2017 will be in the past. But the problems we face will still be in the present. Church musicians have the privilege and responsibility to offer solace to those in need through music. Recently, Daniel Greig wrote a touching ballad voicing the honest plea of the brokenhearted in search of God and healing, titled “Hear My Prayer.” I was fortunate to have been the arranger and I believe the song will speak to the hearts of those in need of comfort and joy throughout the year. I hope you’ll take a moment to consider it.
May you rest merry in the comfort and joy of the the Good News of Jesus this Christmas.