Word Play: Merry Christmas

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Word Play. This month George Grant considers that cheerful phrase we love to use around this time of year.

GEORGE GRANT, COMMENTATOR: “Merry Christmas.” It is likely that we will both say and hear that phrase more than a few times over the next three weeks. For us as believers, it serves as far more than a simple alternative to “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.”

We know only too well that true merriment of the heart depends upon grasping the profound reality that Christ Jesus was born in Bethlehem for our salvation. So, we joyfully declare: “He has come to make His blessings flow as far as the curse is found.”

Merry is a word that usually connotes good humor, cheerfulness, and joy. This is how it is often used in the Bible.

In the Book of Proverbs we read, “A merry heart is good medicine.” And, the Prophet Jeremiah declares, “Adorn yourself with tambourines and go forth in the dances of the merry” (Jeremiah 31:4). But, this certainly does not exhaust the word’s meaning.

Originally, merry comes to us from the old Anglo-Saxon word, myryer. It was used in various contexts to mean pleasing, fine, and agreeable. It could also mean melodious, comforting, and sweet. Sometimes it conveyed the idea of bountiful, fruitful, and prosperous. Very often though, it was used to mean illustrious, mighty, and brave.

So, to be merry was not simply to be joyful, cheerful, and gleeful, but often, strong, bold, and gallant as well. It was in this sense that courageous soldiers were called “merry men.” Favorable weather was called “merry weather.” Brisk winds were called a “merry gale.”

Thus, the word merry carries with it the double thought of might and mirth.

As Christians, we are able to engage in spiritual merriment as we remember that, through the redemption wrought by the grace of the Lord Jesus, we have been made “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). So, “God rest ye, merry gentlemen.”

Merry, Merry Christmas!

For WORLD Radio, I’m George Grant.

(Photo/Dawn Ashley, Flickr)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “Word Play: Merry Christmas

  1. Gary Dowdell says:

    Mr. Grant,
    Thank you for your excellent words of encouragement and the depth of understanding you bring to the word merry. As a fellow bearer of the bow tie I would like to humbly disagree with one point, actually one comma. The placement of the comma in “God rest ye, merry gentlemen” relocates my favorite comma in the English language. I believe that merry in this song is intended to describe the quality of the rest, not the state of the gentlemen. By placing the comma after ye, the implication is that merry gentlemen are in need of rest. Placing the comma after merry describes the type of rest that the gentlemen are called to experience. The gentlemen are told not to dismay about anything. Dismay does not strike me an emotion within a merry person. The shepherds are told to fear not and are moved to rejoicing through each stanza. Finally the refrain can be worded “Announcement of take strength (comfort) and great mirth.” God rest ye merry, Mr. Grant!

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