“Do not be afraid! For behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!” – Luke 2:10-11

Christmas is a time of celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. A time when we remember in gratitude the eternal comfort and joy we find in Him. A time when we spread good tidings of His unending love. A time when we rejoice in singing Christmas hymns and carols.

One of the oldest and most beloved of traditional Christmas carols — “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” — is a carol that sings of the joy of that blessed morn over 2,000 years ago. All heaven and earth rejoice at the news.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Savior
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!

This Old English carol, believed to have been written back in the 16th century, retells the Christmas story in the gospel of Luke. The essence of Christ’s mission is found in this song’s lyrics. The Son of God enters humanity to become its Savior… to rescue all who have gone astray… to free everyone from the tyranny of Satan’s power. This is the comfort and joy of Jesus that is celebrated in this song and in this season.

The lyrics of this traditional carol have been restyled over the centuries, adapting to changes in the English language through the times. When written in Tudor England, a common expression of greeting or farewell was… “God rest you merry”. People would pass it along as a blessing, meaning… “May God keep you in peace”… “May God grant you happiness and joy”.

This expression can be found in writings of this time period including several of Shakespeare’s plays. The song’s author is not addressing the gentlemen as being merry as often thought. He is instead expressing the idea that the blessings of the season are to be enjoyed and shared… and all dismay banished. For the Savior of the World is come.

In Bethlehem, in Israel
The 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…

Bethlehem is the prophesied birthplace of the Messiah, the Holy One. Out of this tiny town in the land of Judah comes a Ruler who will be the Shepherd of God’s people (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:4-6). A virgin is the prophesied mother of the Christ Child, the Son of God (Isaiah 7:14, Luke 1:35). Mary wraps her firstborn son in swaddling clothes and lays Him in a manger (Luke 2:12).

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…

“Fear not, then,” said the Angel
“Let nothing you affright
This day is born a Savior
Of a pure virgin bright
To free all those who trust in Him
From Satan’s power and might.”
O tidings…

The joyful news is brought by a heavenly angel to shepherds in nearby fields. The Messiah, Christ the Lord, is born (Luke 2:8-11)! The Word has become flesh and has made His dwelling among His own (John 1:14). This Holy One will be called Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). For He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

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…

And when they came to Bethlehem
Where our dear Savior lay
They found Him in a manger
Where oxen feed on hay;
His mother Mary kneeling down
Unto the Lord did pray
O tidings…

The shepherds hurry off in search of this Christ Child in Bethlehem. They find Him just as the angels promised, lying in a manger. They are overjoyed and spread the good news to all. In their joy and amazement, they praise and glorify God (Luke 2:20).

Mary kneels before Jesus, this Holy Child. For the angel has told her His prophesied role… He will be great, the Son of the Most High, who will rule on the throne of David forever. His kingdom will never end (Luke 1:32-33). He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

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
Doth bring redeeming grace
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Charles Dickens chose this song to be in his classic tale, “A Christmas Carol”. In this story, on Christmas Eve, a young caroler comes by the office of Ebenezer Scrooge to share some Christmas joy. “But at the first sound of – ‘God bless you merry gentleman! May nothing you dismay!’ – Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror.”

Perhaps Scrooge might have done well to take this proffered blessing to heart. Yet he would have none of such Christmas cheer. However, over the course of the night, Ebenezer learns that Christmas is a season of rejoicing and merriment… a season of joy and cheer… a season of love and peace.

This Christmas season, may we remember the blessed birth of our Lord as the reason for our celebrating. May we sing praises to our Savior for His redeeming grace. May we spread tidings to all… tidings of the true comfort and joy found only in Christ.