No one knows who wrote “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” but it has been sing since the 15th century. It was first published as a Christmas carol in 1833 as part of a collection by William B. Sandy called Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern. Not long after its publication, the song made an appearance in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as a song that incited the anger of Ebenezer Scrooge:
“…at the first sound of ‘God bless you merry, gentlemen, May nothing you dismay!” Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
Clearly Scrooge didn’t feel the “tidings of comfort and joy” the song describes. Along with those tidings, the lyrics also record a version of what the shepherds, who were understandably terrified, heard when they angel appeared to them to announce the birth of Christ:
“Fear not, then, let nothing you affright; this day is born a Savior of a pure virgin bright, to free all those who trust in him
from Satan’s power and might.”
It’s a refrain that echoes over and over again in the pages of Scripture, a command given by God to His people. He said it to Abram when Abram wondered when he would see his promised heir. He said it to His people as they looked at the odds stacked against them in the Promised Land. He said it to Joshua as he prepared to take the reigns of leadership from Moses. The words echo through the psalms as a means of encouragement during worship. And again, here, we find the shepherds hearing the same command. It seems that God is very concerned about fear in His people – specifically, He is concerned with removing it from them. God does not want us to live in fear; indeed this is part of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment (2 Tim. 1:7).
Ever wondered why, though? Why is this commanded repeated so often? Why is God so concerned that fear is removed from the hearts of His people? Well, the most basic reason is because God loves us.
I think about all the times as a father I’ve cracked the closet door with the light on; all the times I’ve tested smoke alarms so my daughter can know they work; all the times we have fast forwarded through scary movie trailers on television; I have done these things because I love my children. And in my love, I do not want them to be afraid.
I, like any father, am just a shadow of the true Father. My love is woefully inadequate and incomplete compared with His great love. So, if we as sinful fathers, do not want our children to be afraid, how much more must our Heavenly Father? Not only that, but unlike us, our Heavenly Father can do much more than whisper assurances about fear; He can actually and completely guard the hearts and souls of all His children. God has loved us completely and fully in the gospel. And that love drives out our fear. But that’s not the only reason.
It’e true that part of God’s desire for His people to not live in fear is about us. It’s about our well-being, and about our spiritual transformation. But there is another even more important element at play here. That is, God’s own reputation. He commands that we not fear because He is concerned with His own glory.
Stop and think about how our fear reflects on the character of God. What are we saying about Him if we live in a state of fear? We are saying that the God we claim to serve, the One we claim sent His Son to die for us, actually does not love us enough to keep us from ultimate harm. Or we are saying that He is not powerful enough to keep us in Him. Or He is saying that this world with troubles filled can actually undo us, and not just threaten to. The reputation and glory of God is on display through our level of fear.
So fear not, Christian, let nothing you affright. Fear not, for you do not just have a God who claims to love you, but One who has demonstrated that love at the cross. Let His care, His power, and His glory wash over you and find that fear has an decreasingly small place in your soul.