Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Difference a Comma Makes

‘Tis the season for Christmas quizzes. Think you know pretty much all there is to know about the season? Try this one. Where does the comma go in the Christmas carol, “God rest ye merry gentlemen?”

Here’s another one, although it’s not about the Christmas season, at least not directly. Where does the comma go in this portion of the Lord’s Prayer: thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?

If you answered, there is no comma, then you are obviously a student of Greek and you should be writing your own blog rather than reading mine ;).

Last Sunday I was in Austin on holiday, and I visited two churches and heard two of my favorite pastors preach. Both bulletins had printed versions of the Lord’s Prayer. Here’s how the commas went down as best I can recall: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

And the point is? Several years ago, I attended The Academy for Spiritual Formation, a wonderful two year program put on by the Upper Room. One of our leaders urged us not to separate “thy will be done” from “on earth.” “Say them together without the pause,” he insisted. His point? This part of the prayer is not simply about God’s will happening in a vague general sort of way or somehow without our participation like we’re bemused bystanders. We’re praying for God’s will to happen here on earth. It’s a call to action and participation.

“Thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven” is not wishful thinking, but a commitment to working toward that kingdom now, here on earth, even among the earthy. God calls forth visions of truth and beauty in places and among people who seem least able to pull it off. And mirabile dictu, kingdom happens, and the impossible becomes possible and love divine is born again right down the street.

(Oh, and the carol? It’s “God rest ye merry, gentlemen.” So it’s not about merry gentlemen, but about God giving (resting) merriment. This Christmas, may God rest you merry, gentlefolk!)


  1. Amen!
    (To the concept that we are to be working at doing His will now.)
    His will is knowable and doable.

  2. I have given some thought to the idea of 'merry rest'. I just got through a bout of the flu, and no matter how much I tried to 'do', my body kept forcing me back to 'rest'. Once I actually admitted this to myself and stopped pretending I wasn't sick, the quality of the rest got better - a lot better. And, of course, my health improved soon thereafter. You can draw parallels to the soul and spirit, the family, even to our community. Rest, contemplation and meditation aren't just afterthoughts. And, if we do them well and intentionally, the merrier the experience and the better the outcome.