SERMON TITLE: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
TEXT: Psalm 85:4-7 (NLT)
SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
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As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time or are joining us at our North Main Campus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.
We’re continuing our Christmas series this weekend. This Christmas we’re looking at different Christmas carols that help tell the Christmas story. We’ve already looked at two carols you’re probably familiar with — Angels from the Realms of Glory and Joy to the World — and over the next few weeks we’ll look at other carols you know and love like O Little Town of Bethlehem and O Holy Night. But — our carol for today — is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
In addition to our carols — we’re also following the advent calendar. The advent calendar is a long tradition in the Christian church where — each week leading up to Christmas — there’s a focus on a specific theme — the themes being hope, love, joy, and peace. We’ve done our best to connect the words from the Christmas carols to the specific advent theme for each week. And — in case you’re wondering — joy is this week’s advent theme.
Finally, our passage — psalm eighty-five — admittedly isn’t what we typically think of when we think of Christmas — in modern times we’ve focused nearly exclusively on passages found in the gospels of the New Testament. But — in church history — many passages have been used to tell the Christmas story — including the psalms. But — knowing that it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas if there’s no mention of Mary and Joseph or the shepherds, angels, and wisemen — we’ll be incorporating some of these passages each week in our worship services.
And now — if you have your Bible — please turn with me to psalm eighty-five. I’m going to read the entire psalm for us — and then we’ll focus our attention on just a few verses of it. We’re in psalm eighty-five — beginning in verse one.
Psalm 85 (NLT)
1 Lord, you poured out blessings on your land! You restored the fortunes of Israel. 2 You forgave the guilt of your people — yes, you covered all their sins. Interlude 3 You held back your fury. You kept back your blazing anger. 4 Now restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put aside your anger against us once more. 5 Will you be angry with us always? Will you prolong your wrath to all generations? 6 Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation. 8 I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people. But let them not return to their foolish ways. 9 Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, so our land will be filled with his glory. 10 Unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed! 11 Truth springs up from the earth, and righteousness smiles down from heaven. 12 Yes, the Lord pours down his blessings. Our land will yield its bountiful harvest. 13 Righteousness goes as a herald before him, preparing the way for his steps.
As I mentioned earlier — our carol for today is God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and our advent theme is joy. Now — I know, I know — you’re all probably wondering why I didn’t pick Joy to the World for this week. Well — it was quite the challenge — actually — to find a Christmas carol that focused on the advent theme of love — and Joy to the World is one of the few carols that does just that. So we used Joy to the Word last week and are using God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for our advent theme of joy. And — if you’re familiar with our carol — you’ll recognize the joy connection pretty easily. It’s found in the repeated phrase...
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was first sung more than five hundred years ago by peasants in England. Music in the church — in the fifteenth century — was usually written in Latin — a language the peasants didn’t speak or understand — and the church music — of this time period — had dark and somber melodies. And when you can’t understand the words and the music is somber — well — it did little to inspire joy in the people. Now the peasants had no authority in the church — so they just kind of put up with this depressing music that they couldn’t understand. But outside the church — they began to write their own music — which was actually quite a rebellious act in this time period. And the music they wrote was in the common language and it had more joyful melodies. And God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen was one of the first — and most popular — songs written during the Christmas season in this period of history. And — probably because it was written by a peasant — we have no idea who wrote it — their name has been lost in history. Yet one thing we do know about our anonymous author is that they knew the biblical Christmas story quite well as they captured all of the highlights of the Christmas story in the lyrics of the carol.
Our carol was sung for hundreds of years before it was officially published in the nineteenth century. And thanks to Queen Victoria’s love for the carol — it began to be sung in the Anglican Church of England. Today — the carol is sung similar to the way it was originally written and sung — the main difference being a misunderstanding we have in regards to the opening line of the carol — which also happens to be the title. And our misunderstanding has to do with the word merry.
When we use the word merry today — especially at Christmas — we instinctively define the word merry to mean something like the word “happy.” Merry Christmas and happy Christmas are synonymous to us. Well hundreds of years ago the word merry had a different meaning — it didn’t mean happy — the word meant mighty. A strong army — for example — was a merry army. A great ruler would be called a merry ruler. And — I don’t know — if there was a guy who robbed from the rich to give to the poor — and really liked using a bow and arrow — well his group would be called the “merry men.”
So — when this carol was first sung — “merry gentlemen” didn’t mean “happy gentlemen” — it meant “mighty gentlemen.” And the word “ye” — in the title — means “you.” So now we’ve got a carol title that means “God Rest You Mighty Gentlemen” — which sounds kind of weird to our ears. And that’s because there’s one more word we’re not quite understanding — and that’s the word rest.
Rest — when this carol was written — meant “to make.” Where we think of the word rest to mean “to relax or pause or lounge around” — hundreds of years ago the word rest meant “to make.” So now — if you’re following along — the carol’s title — in language we use today — is “God Make You Mighty Gentlemen.” And we’re almost there — just one last help needed — an implied comma — so that the title is “God Make You Mighty, Gentlemen.”
And — now — our carol takes on a whole new meaning for us — though this is what the song originally meant. When we sing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” what we’re singing are words that are like a prayer of blessing for God’s people — “May God make you mighty men and women” — for this is a mighty event that we celebrate at Christmas, right? It’s a Merry Christmas indeed — a Mighty Christmas — for the Savior of the world was born — God is with us. For as the prophet Zephaniah said...
Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)
17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
A Merry, Mighty Christmas indeed. May God make you mighty men and women this Christmas. And — this Christmas — when you say the words “Merry Christmas” — may those words bring to your mind the mighty act of God that we celebrate at this time of year — the birth of our Savior.
And — now — let’s turn to our verses for today — we’re in verse four of Psalm eighty-five.
Psalm 85:4–7 (NLT)
4 Now restore us again, O God of our salvation. Put aside your anger against us once more. 5 Will you be angry with us always? Will you prolong your wrath to all generations? 6 Won’t you revive us again, so your people can rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
What gives you joy? Or — how about this question — what robs you of joy? Our psalm is a prayer that was most likely written near the end of the Babylonian exile. So — after the consequence of their sin and rebellion — when the people of God were conquered and exiled to live in Babylon for seventy years — the time of their exile is nearing its end. And this psalm is a prayer written on behalf of God’s people in anticipation of going home. And — in this prayer — they ask God to end his anger towards them — his just judgment for their sin. And they ask for revival — for God to spiritually awaken his people again. And why — why do they pray for revival? So the people can rejoice in God again. You see there’s a longing expressed in this prayer — the longing is for the people to have joy once more. And this is a joy in response to — and because of — their God. What gives you joy?
Christian or not — one truth we eventually all run into is that — no matter where we try to find joy — if we seek joy in anything other than the One true God — the joy we discover will be fleeting. Thus there’s a hopelessness in the message of our culture — a message we must recognize for the deception that it is — the deception that states that we’re responsible for joy in our life — and that this joy can be found. But — once we realize that this is a deception — for at best the joy we can make happen in our lives will last for a moment — it’s never a lasting joy — and once we realize this deception runs rampant in our culture — we can be compassionate towards others who’ve bought into this lie and have found it leaving them in angst — in turmoil — wondering why they’re the only one who hasn’t found joy like everyone else — when no one finds last joy this way..
That’s why we need to listen to the words of our psalm — for our psalm reminds us that joy — true joy — everlasting joy — can be found — but it’s found in the One true God and nowhere else.
JOY IN JESUS
And this brings us to the Christmas story — and specifically — to part of the Christmas story that’s found in Luke’s gospel. These verses were read earlier — but I want to read them again — for this is our reason to rejoice. This is where joy in your life — everlasting joy — can be found. In Luke chapter two we read...
Luke 2:8–21 (NLT)
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. 9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. 21 Eight days later, when the baby was circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel even before he was conceived.
Notice the angel’s message to the shepherds. The message was one of “good news that will bring great joy to all people.” And this good news of great joy is that the Savior — God’s Rescuer — had been born in Bethlehem. How does this news give us joy? Well now is a good time to return to our Christmas carol — a song that captures the reason why Jesus — God’s Great Rescuer — was born and the joy that he offers to each of us.
God rest ye merry gentlemen (God make you mighty, men and women)
Let nothing you dismay (Can we do this? Can we live where nothing in life causes us distress? We can if we...)
Remember Christ our Savior (We can if we remember that God’s Great Rescuer…)
Was born on Christmas Day (And why was Jesus born? He was born...)
To save us all from Satan's pow'r
When we were gone astray (Though we were slaves of Satan, sin, death, and Hell — due to our sin and rebellion against God — Jesus came to rescue us — to set us free. And the response to this good news is to sing...)
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
And this comfort and joy is a promise that can be yours today. For this is the revival of joy that the psalmist prayed for — and it’s a revival of joy guaranteed to all who turn to Jesus — the Christ child — the One who is both Savior and Lord — who turn to Jesus in faith — trusting in him alone for your salvation. This joy is guaranteed to all who turn to Jesus in faith as they turn from their sins in repentance — for to turn to Jesus for your joy means you must turn away from whatever you’ve been trying to find joy in. But the promise — the hope — the reason why it’s a Mighty Christmas indeed — is because the joy we all long for — the joy that’s elusive for so many — is a joy that’s found only in one place — or better — it’s found only in one person — and that’s Jesus.
Jesus was born so we could have joy — he was born so you can have joy that never ends. Though our sin and rebellion has robbed us of the very thing we all long for — Jesus — because of his love for us — came to earth to give his life — so we could experience a revival in our hearts that results in our joy. And — the man, woman, or child who experiences this revival of the heart — who finds the joy that’s found only in Jesus — is made by God into a mighty man — a mighty woman — even a mighty child. A “God made mighty man, woman or child” who now has a joy that isn’t fleeting and can’t be taken from them no matter what life or the enemy throws their way — that’s what it means to be a “God made mighty man or woman.” Since God’s done the making — since he’s done the forging — because God has done the work — and because he’s guaranteed that the work he’s begun in you — a work of comfort and joy — will reach its completion and perfection in you — if you believe in Jesus — you will have joy. And that is good news of great joy for all people — and it’s good news of great comfort and joy that can be yours today — and always — through faith in Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, what an unexpected work that you do in your people — you make us into mighty men and women. And you do this knowing how weak and faithless we so often can be. What a demonstration of your power and of the promise, “When we’re weak — you are strong.” May you strengthen those who don’t feel so mighty right now — help them to trust in your strength more than they trust in their weakness.
Spirit of God, revive us with the joy that’s found only in Jesus. For the joy in him is the only lasting joy to be found. All other joys are fleeting — they’re temporary — they last for a moment — but the joy that Jesus offers us lasts for eternity. Give us a thirst for this eternal joy.
And — Jesus — what comfort and joy you offer to us. We don’t deserve this gift — yet you’re so gracious, loving, and kind to us that you offer the gift of joy to us even though it cost you your life. May we cherish this gift of joy that you offer to us as we remember that you are the Christ — you are our Savior — you are the good news that is great joy to all people — including us. May we — mighty men and women who’ve been made by God — tell others of your eternal joy-giving good news. And we pray all of this in your name. Amen.
May you — having responded to the good news that is great joy to all people — may you go as mighty men and women who’ve been made by God. Amen.
God loves you. I love you. You are sent.