This is the second week of our series called Do You Hear What I Hear? In this series, we’re exploring the truth behind the words of some classic Christmas carols. Today, we’re going to unpack the truth behind of the more mysterious and misunderstood carols that we sing. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a good husband or not. I think all of us married guys wonder about this sometimes. But recently, something happened that convinced me that I really am a good husband. A great husband. Possibly the Muhammed Ali of husbands…the greatest! The greatest of all time!
You know what convinced me of that? You know what convinced me of my “husbandy” greatness? I agreed to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie with my wife. If that doesn’t win me the Husband of The Year Award, then nothing will.
Now, this wasn’t just any Hallmark movie. This was THE Hallmark movie of the year. This is THE Christmas movie that they had been hyping up for months. This was the Hallmark-iest of all the Hallmark movies for Christmas this year.
And it was awful! I don’t just mean it was “not good.” I don’t even mean that it was bad. I mean it was absolutely awful!
Now, it’s one thing for me to say that. I’m pretty sure no guy has ever said the words, “I just watched a good movie on the Hallmark Channel.” Said no man ever, right?
But when it came to this particular movie, even my wife agreed. It was really, really bad. And she loves Hallmark Christmas movies.
But for some reason, we watched it. For me, it eventually just became a test of my perseverance. Sometimes you’ve just got to see something through to very end, just to prove you can do it. That’s what I was doing.
And the movie finally ended. And you know the first thing that came on the screen immediately after the movie ended? Hallmark’s promotion for the sequel that comes out next Christmas!
I’m a good husband, but I’m not that good. I will not be watching the sequel of the worst Hallmark movie I’ve ever seen.
I just don’t get it. I don’t understand who thought this was a good script. I don’t understand how it even got made into a movie. And I really don’t understand who thought, “Man, this is so good, let’s make another one!”
I just don’t get it. Apparently I’m missing something here, but I just don’t get it.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that there is a lot of people who feel that way in general this time of year. They just don’t get it. They feel they must be missing something. Something that everyone else seems to understand, but they just don’t.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of warmth and comfort, but maybe you’re just not feeling it. It’s supposed to be a time of joy, but maybe you don’t feel joyful.
You really weren’t feeling the words that we sang in that last song. “O tidings of comfort and joy.”
Maybe those words ring hollow for you. Those words might work in a Christmas carol, but they really aren’t true in your life. You feel like you’re missing something. Everybody else seems to get it, but you just don’t.
But this is why I’m so excited about today…because God is going to shift our perspective. He’s going to do something powerful in our lives today. The truth that is expressed in that song is true for me and it’s true for you, regardless of how we feel right now.
Let’s pray for God to speak to us today.
Let’s play the easiest game ever. Fill in the blank. “We wish you a __________________ Christmas!”
What word goes in the blank? No, it’s not a trick question.
The word is obviously “merry.” We wish you a Merry Christmas!
But what if I told you that almost none of us understand where that phrase came from or what it means? And what if I told you that it’s the exact reason why so many people don’t understand Christmas, and maybe don’t even understand Christianity. I know that probably sounds like I’m overstating it, but I’m not.
The song we’re exploring today is God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. Like I said, it’s one of the more mysterious and misunderstood Christmas carols that we sing. And it’s all because of this word “merry.”
When we hear the phrase, “Merry Christmas,” we automatically think it means “Happy Christmas.” When we hear the title of this carol, we think it’s talking some “happy gentlemen.” (Happy gentlemen that aren’t watching Hallmark movies!)
But here’s where our misunderstanding comes into play. And it’s so much bigger than misunderstanding a holiday phrase or a Christmas carol.
This song was written in the 15th century. And as you know, language evolves and changes over time. Especially over the span of six centuries.
In this time period, the word “merry” didn’t mean happy. It meant strong. Powerful. Mighty.
So “Merry Christmas” actually means, “Mighty Christmas.”
The phrase, “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” actually means, “God Make You Mighty, Gentlemen (and, of course, ladies, too).”
And this gets to the heart of why so many people misunderstand Christmas…and more importantly, why they misunderstand Christianity.
They believe it’s all about their happiness. If God is good, then my life should be good. So when my life is bad, I doubt that God is good. I doubt that God cares. I might even doubt if God is even there.
Does that sound familiar? It should, because we’ve all experienced it. I’ve gone through those times. In fact, I still go through those times…and I’m a pastor!
It’s so hard to reconcile a God that is good when life is bad. It brings a lot of questions and doubt into our lives. And then we get to this season that is supposedly about feeling holly and jolly, and it can make us feel even worse. It makes us feel like we just don’t get it. We’ve got to be missing something.
Here’s what we’re missing. God never promised to make us merry. But He did promise to make us mighty.
One of the most dangerous things we can believe is that God promised to make us merry. To give us happy, easy, problem-free lives with no pain, no hurt, and no disappointment.
There is no shortage of preachers and authors who sell this crap. And that’s exactly what it is. It’s crap. And it’s incredibly dangerous.
Because if I buy into this, then what do I do when my life doesn’t measure up to those false promises? What do I do when happiness is replaced with hurt? What do I do when life suckerpunches me and I go to the mat?
You know what I probably do? I walk away. That’s what I do. God didn’t live up to His end of the bargain, so I’m gone.
But in reality, God never made any of those promises. He never promised to make us merry. But He absolutely promised to make us mighty.
You don’t have to go any further than the Christmas story in the Bible to see this truth.
In Luke 1, here’s how Luke describes it for us, “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Luke 1:26-31, NIV 1984)
A lot of us know this story. Even people who aren’t Christians usually know the basics of the Christmas story. They’ve seen a Charlie Brown Christmas, so they get the gist of it.
But this story has been so romanticized and so sanitized that we can really miss the hard, gritty truth of the coming of Christ. So let’s talk about that reality.
God sent the angel, Gabriel, to a girl named Mary who lived in the town of Nazareth.
Now, you have to understand something about Nazareth. Nazareth was nothing. It was a town of probably a few dozen people. At the absolute max, a few hundred people lived there. For perspective, it is highly likely that we’ll have more people at church today than lived in the town of Nazareth.
People in Nazareth lived in homes that were 500-600 square feet, part of which was occupied by livestock. This was a town of simple, dirt poor, country people.
And it was in this simple little town that a girl named Mary got engaged to a fellow named Joseph. And it’s at this point that the angel Gabriel comes to Mary.
She was betrothed to Joseph. This was a pledge to be married. In first century Jewish culture, you could get married at 13 years old. Girls as young as 12 could be betrothed. The betrothal would last for a year and then the marriage would be consummated.
And that’s where Mary is when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. She’s excited because she’s a young girl who is planning her wedding. Anybody who has ever been around a girl who is planning her wedding knows what it’s like. Her feet never even touch the ground. She is almost floating on air. That’s where Mary is right now.
Now, let’s explore a little more about Mary. Mary was probably illiterate. Very few women in this culture were formally educated. Most likely, she couldn’t read or write.
She was a peasant girl, collecting water, gathering wood, illiterate, dirty clothes. That was Mary.
But this is how we often think about Mary. In reality, Mary wouldn’t even know who this person was. This is the way that Mary is often depicted in Catholic art, but this is far cry from reality. Mary was not in her late 20s or early 30s. She was not Caucasian. She didn’t have fine clothes to wear. And she didn’t have a weird halo around her head.
Mary was a peasant girl. A teenager, probably somewhere between 12-14 years old. That’s Jr. High age. Let that sink in. We’re talking about a girl in Middle School.
God didn’t choose a rich, affluent, beautiful, powerful woman to be the mother of His Son. He chose Mary. The dirt poor, illiterate, Jr. High farm girl from a nowhere town.
Now, let’s go even deeper into this story. This was Mary’s world before the angel appeared to her. “I’m going to marry Joseph, the man of my dreams. I have my dress. I’ve picked out my flowers. I’ve sent my invitations. It will be a wonderful day. Then, after our wedding, we’ll go on our honeymoon. And then we’ll start our life together. We’ll have a loving home with lots of babies. It will be a wonderful life.”
Then Gabriel shows up and says, “Mary, I know that’s how you thought your life was going to play out, but I’ve been sent to tell you that this isn’t exactly how it’s going to go down. It’s time for a new script. You’re going to be pregnant.”
Mary wasn’t married yet. That’s why the Christmas story is anything but warm-and-fuzzy. This pregnancy was absolutely scandalous.
Joseph could legally divorce Mary for this. The betrothal commitment was so serious that breaking it off required a legal divorce. But Joseph had all the grounds that he needed to do that. He could break the betrothal and call off the wedding.
But it could get much worse than that. There was also a provision in the law that said that Mary could be stripped naked, redressed in rags, abused verbally and physically, tied up in the center of town, and left there for a long time. This was done so all the other young women in town would get the idea that being a fornicator and an adulterer was not acceptable.
Mary was called incredibly derogatory names her whole life. Jesus grew up hearing, “Well, at least I know who my dad is. Your mom slept around so much you don’t even know who your real father is.”
Seriously…who was going to believe the whole virgin birth thing? Nobody. Mary could be treated like a prostitute. People would look at her son, point, and whisper all kinds of demeaning, derogatory things. This was going to be Mary’s life from now on.
When the angel showed up, he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” (Luke 1:30b, NIV 1984)
But when you really understand the reality of what Mary’s life would be like, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It doesn’t seem like the angel came to say, “Mary, you have found favor with God.” It sounds a whole lot more like the angel showed up and said, “Mary, I’m here to ruin your life.”
Mary was never promised happiness. She wasn’t promised an easy, carefree, problem-free life. In fact, in many ways she was promised the exact opposite.
But she was also promised two incredibly important things.
Look at these two incredible promises that God gave to her through the angel. In verse 28, Luke writes, “The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28, NIV 1984)
And then if you skip on down in the conversation to verse 37, the angel tells Mary, “For nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37, NIV 1984)
Those are two incredible promises. The Lord is with you. And nothing is impossible with God. Mary wasn’t promised an easy life, but she was promised that she was not alone in life. God was with her. And she was also promised that God is greater than what is happening in her life. In fact, nothing is impossible with Him.
And here’s the awesome news…we are given those exact same promises.
The Lord is with you. And nothing is impossible for Him.
Last week, we talked about how Jesus is Emmanuel, which means He is God with us. We could never climb the ladder to get to God, so instead God came down that ladder. He came to us. He is with us.
And nothing is impossible for Him. There is nothing happening in your life or in my life that God can’t handle. His power trumps our circumstances. It supersedes our situation.
A few weeks ago, I was getting ready to put up Christmas lights. It takes a while to put up all our outside lights, and this was really the only day that I had available to get it done. If the lights were going up, they had to go up on this day. But the problem was, our roof was still covered in snow and ice from that snowstorm we had a few weeks ago.
So I wanted to get up on the roof to hang Christmas lights, but I really didn’t want to pull a Clark Griswold and slip and fall off the roof. It was quite a conundrum, until a little redneck ingenuity kicked in.
I got a garden hose and hooked it up to the hot water line for the washer in the laundry room. I ran the hose out the window, up the ladder, and onto the roof. And I used the hose to spray hot water all over the roof. It melted all the ice and snow, and then I got on with hanging the lights.
You might think that’s goofy. I think it’s genius. I had a problem that I couldn’t overcome, until I tapped into the right source of power. The power to melt that ice was available to me the whole time, but nothing in my situation changed until I realized it and tapped into it.
Maybe you’re coming into this Christmas feeling iced over instead of warm and fuzzy. Instead of jolly, you’re feeling melancholy. Life has roughed you up, and you’re not seeing much hope on the horizon.
God never promised to make you merry, but He did promise to make you mighty. You just have to tap into the right power source. You have to tap into these two promises. The Lord is with you, and nothing is impossible for Him.
Listen to what Paul wrote to the believers in the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 1, Paul told them, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead…” (Ephesians 1:17-20a, NIV)
Did you hear what Paul said? The exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us. But there is a caveat. He said it’s available to us “who believe.”
Do you believe that God is greater than what you’re facing? Do you believe that God is greater than any pain or fear or crisis that can break loose in your life?
The exact same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us! But most of us never tap into it.
It reminds me of the Hummer craze in our culture. They’re not nearly as popular as they used to be, but you still see Hummers out and about. These things were designed for any terrain. If you can see it, you can drive over it. That’s the idea.
And yet most Hummers are driven by suburban soccer moms in the school car pool. All this power is at their disposal. They could drive this thing up a telephone pole if they wanted, yet they just drive around the nice, safe, paved roads of suburbia. All that power, and it never gets used.
Our God is a Hummer. He can go over or through anything.
Most of us are soccer moms. Playing it safe. Staying between the lines. Never accessing the power at our disposal.
When you allow your circumstances to dictate your faith, you are ignoring the power of God. God is greater than those circumstances, and yet you’re allowing those circumstances to define you.
Remember, God never promised to make you merry, but He did promise to make you mighty. He never promised that you wouldn’t go through tough seasons, but He did promise to make you mighty enough to power through them.
And when we know that, all of a sudden, the words from this carol start to ring a lot more true. “God rest ye merry gentlemen [God make you mighty, gentlemen. And when your life is powered by God’s might…] 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.”
When God makes you mighty, you can live without dismay. When you realize that Jesus has come, that He died and rose again for you, and that the same resurrection power lives inside you, then Satan’s power over you fades away.
Satan wants to keep you focused on the struggle. The pain. The disappointment. The loss.
But when you focus on Jesus, you see a power that overcame death itself. And when you realize that power is alive in you, you can have comfort and joy even in hard times. Because when Jesus is part of the equation, crucifixions always turn into resurrections. What you see now is not the end of your story.
And the reason is because of these two incredible truths. The Lord is with you, and nothing is impossible for Him.
Jesus is Emmanuel, which means He is with you. And He conquered death, which means nothing is impossible for Him.
And that’s why we worship Him. We worship Him because of what Paul wrote in Ephesians 3. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV)
God is able to do immeasurably more than anything we can ask or even imagine, according to His power that is at work within us! And the only response is for His church to give Him honor. To give Him worship. To give Him glory. And that’s what we’re going to do right now.
I want to give you a glimpse of your future. If things aren’t going well, if life is hard, if things are just really tough right now, I want to give you a glimpse of your future.
In Jeremiah 31, here’s what God said through the prophet Jeremiah. “Then young women will dance and be glad, young men and old as well. I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow.” (Jeremiah 31:13, NIV)
The Lord is with you, and nothing is impossible for Him. That means that you haven’t seen the end of your story yet. Comfort and joy will win out over sorrow, because Jesus always changes crucifixions into resurrections.
God never promised to make us merry, but He promised to make us mighty. His power is at work within us. And He’s not done yet. God always finishes what He starts, and He’s not finished with us yet.
We will go through seasons where we don’t know what God is doing, but He’s always doing something. He’s always fighting for us. He’s always working for our good.
If you think God has given up on you, let me ask you…why would Jesus give His life for you just so He could give up on you?
The cross of Christ is there to remind us that Jesus gave up everything so He could be our Emmanuel…our God who is with us. And He rose from grave, because nothing is impossible for Him.
So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to pray and then we’re going to close out by giving our all in worship to God. But before we pray, let me ask you…what is it for you? What is it in your life? What fear are you facing? What is scaring you to death right now? What trial are you going through? What mountain seems impossible for you to climb? What is it in your life that is dark and seems to be hopeless?
Can you see it in your mind?
I’m here to tell you that your God is bigger. I want you to say these words out loud with me. Say, “My God is bigger” on 3. 1, 2, 3. “My God is bigger.”
God never promised to make you merry, but He did promise to make you mighty. His power is alive and at work in you. But you’ve got to surrender to Him.
Some of you have never made Jesus the Savior and Lord of your life. If that’s you, we would love to talk with you in the Green Room after church today. We’ve got folks ready to listen and to talk and pray with you. Stop in there right after the service is over.
Others of us have given our lives to Jesus, but we’re still struggling to trust Him. Things just aren’t working out like they’re supposed to, and we’re struggling to trust that God is in control. Let us pray for you, too. Stop in the Green Room after church. And during this closing time of worship, listen as God reminds you that He is bigger. He is bigger than what you’re facing. He is stronger than anything that life can throw at you.
Let’s stand, and let’s worship our mighty God. He is bigger. He is stronger. He is with us. And nothing is impossible for Him.