December 2020 - Rector's Ramblings

Andrew DoyeThere is a well-known Christmas Carol, the name of which I knew incorrectly well into my twenties: ‘God rest ye, merry gentlemen’ … or so,
I thought.

The title confused me a little, in that I could see no strong reason why the seasonal greeting should be addressed solely or favourably towards gents of a merry countenance; but I let it rest. They bring a lot of cheer to Christmas, after all; so maybe they deserve their reward.

Well into adulthood, though, I became aware that the title bears a tiny difference from that which I had recalled: namely, ‘God rest ye merry, gentlemen’. It may be pernickety; but it is all about the comma!

The bidding of the Carol is not so much that the merry should get their due reward of rest; but that ‘gentlemen’ (and here we include ladies, too) should be granted merry - or happy - peace with God. It is a universal prayer that the hearer might know God’s blessing at this special time.

And don’t we welcome that, … this Christmas?

Oh, it has been a hard year; and for some in particular. We have, every one, found ourselves stretched, tested, and knowing discomfort in one form or another. How good to pray ‘merry peace’, happiness and respite, upon our neighbours at this time.

Those in authority have faced great challenges. I have no wish now to add to the evaluations offered regarding the decisions and strategies of
government; some views have been favourable, some less so. However, a little more self-reflectively, I’d say of the Church and its spokespersons that we have again done some things well and some things badly. Our Archbishops have faced criticism at times for being too quiet in the face of a crisis, and church leaders have at other times faced condemnation for being too gung-ho and naïve. Decisions have been difficult, but for the most part people have tried their best to provide a lead with a caring heart.

As we now enter upon this wonderful season of Christmas, the Archbishops have reached for that very Carol of which I began. ‘God rest you merry, gentlemen’ - that fine prayer - offers glad ‘tidings of comfort and joy’. And, as a centrepiece to our message, this rings true.

We all can appreciate a desire for ‘comfort’ amid a pandemic. And people of faith will consider that ‘comfort’ not to be misplaced in the Christmas light of God’s goodness. The birth of Jesus is the richest of blessings to the world. It is a cause of happiness, to those who will receive these tidings; it restores hope and perspective, where hardship is known. If resilience - that prominent 21 st century concept - has been undermined; then here is the beauty, peace and holy depth of the coming of the Christ-child: something of eternal worth, that is restorative of all that we hold true and of the values which lie within our hearts, but which have been buried within the snowdrifts of suffering and necessity. Here is ‘comfort’, I pray.

And here is ‘joy’. Christmas remains a happy time. Christmas remains a gateway upon blessed things: upon fellowship and song, smiles and good food. We shall try, in the churches of our parish, to provide a fitting celebration of this lovely season; though it is very early, at copy date, to know with utter confidence what that will look like.

We hope that Carols will be heard .. in our churches, homes and hearts. And that the baby who was born 2000 years ago, will be born afresh in each of us: prayerfully .. and in the manner of deep comfort and joy.

God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay; remember, Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas Day.

Every blessing,
Andrew Doye

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