God Rest Ye Merry.


Have you ever noticed? Our choice of words can be very important when trying to convey a message to others.

The way I “word” a sentence or a phrase, for example, can many times make a vast difference on whether, or not, the recipient of my message will truly understand what I am trying to say. Sometimes, even the placement of simple punctuation, like a comma separating the words we use, can dramatically change the meaning of our message. Here are two great examples of such:

  1. Let’s eat, grandpa.  vs.  Let’s eat grandpa.  (as a grandpa, I’m not too fond of the latter!)
  1. Most of the time, travelers worry about their luggage.  vs.  Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage. (anybody ready for a reading from H.G. Wells?)

So it is with one very familiar Christmas carol many folks sing around this time of year. This timeless carol dates back to the 16th century or earlier, and is first found in published format in Three New Christmas Carols, dated c. 1760. Here, from that publication, is the familiar first verse:

God rest you merry, Gentlemen,

Let nothing you dismay,

For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born upon this Day.

To save poor souls from Satan’s power,

Which long time had gone astray.

Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Yet interestingly enough, by the time of Charles Dickens and his classic story, A Christmas Carol (1843), this ancient carol’s first line (which appears in Dickens’ story) has been re-punctuated and re-worded to be sung this way:

God bless you, merry gentlemen.

Sadly, today God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is still sung and recited using the punctuation from the days of Dickens instead of the original. Yet, during these troubling times in which we live, it just might be an appropriate moment in history to re-punctuate and thus restore the original meaning to this timeless classic!

You see, in its original 16th century meaning, the caroler was not singing to a bunch of “merry gentlemen!” If you look carefully, in its most ancient format, the comma comes after the word “merry” not before! In Old English, the phrase, ‘God rest you merry,’ was so much more than a simple Christmas-time wish of holiday happiness. In truth, ‘God rest you merry’ was meant to be a powerful prayer of blessing, asking God to keep, or cause the song’s recipient to continue, or remain, in a pleasant, bountiful, and prosperous place. If we used the ancient Hebrew language here, this phase might easily be translated… “May the God of shalom (perfect peace, prosperity & protection) keep you resting and abiding in His shalom.” Thus, in the 16th century, this phrase of peace (God rest you merry) was to be sung to gentlemen (and ladies) who so easily could become dismayed living in times where the problems of the world could weigh heavy on the soul.

Sound a bit familiar?

So, this Christmas, when the troubled world around us can cause us to dismay, let’s sing this old classic carol the way it was originally meant to be sung…

God rest you merry, Gentlemen (and Gentle Ladies),

Let nothing you dismay…


For Jesus Christ our Saviour

Was born upon this Day.

And what difference does “this Day” make?

To save poor souls from Satan’s power,

Which long time had gone astray.

Thus, the end result, my dear friends, brings…

Tidings of comfort and joy.

May the God of all comfort and peace (comma) allow you to rest and remain in His shalom (comma) both now and forever more!  Merry Christmas to one and all!


Marty & Sandy Boller

A special thanks goes to my dear friend, Dick Speight, pastor extraordinaire and Wesleyan historian, who first introduced me to the significance of the punctuation found in this ancient Christmas carol.

You might also want to check out our other popular Advent series:


From November 26 through Christmas Day, join us for our 30-Day Christmas-Time Devotional from our 30-day series: Luke’s Christmas Gospel of Jesus. Check it out here.

Logo-ChristmasArt Christmas Through The Eyes of the Heart. We invite you to join us for a 14-session podcast/blog series which combines the reading of the Christmas story, as found in God’s Word, with seeing, using fourteen pieces of beautiful artwork that can bring your imagination to life.

santa Joy Comes In The Morning. As you celebrate the Advent/Christmas season, enjoy one of our personal favorites, a Christmas-time short story (10 sessions) about the time when Santa Claus, a man who takes his work very seriously, decides to pack it all in and skip Christmas altogether! I guess even ole St. Nick can use a good reminder of what Christmas is all about!

4-1 Let It Be. Fiat Mihi. Over the years, this post has become our most popular blog. Step into the powerful message of Mary, the mother of Jesus, her Fiat Mihi.

psalm47 Handel’s Messiah. Do you know the story behind this great Christmas-time musical masterpiece? Read about the amazing work of God as George Frederic Handel composed and presented his new composition in 1742.

Joseph-and-Jesus Joseph, The Stone-Crafter’s Christmas-Time Prayer. Tradition says that Joseph of Nazareth was a carpenter by trade, but most likely, the ‘earthly father’ of Jesus, and his young son, were skilled craftsmen in stone.

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