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O Come, Emmanuel

During this advent season, we will be looking at popular Christmas hymns and their origins in Biblical truth. Our objective is not to exposit the hymns. In other words, the hymns are not our text, but the Bible will be.

The writers of the hymns are moved by the truth of Christmas, and they use their talents to write songs of worship and adoration. We join in with these songwriters by singing with them in unity as we rejoice together. Many of the Christmas hymns are deep in theology. We want to explore the Biblical truths expressed by the writer of the hymn so we may sing them with the depth of passion and worship they felt as they wrote the hymn.

I liken the Christmas hymns to Mary’s Magnificat, which we find in Luke 2. Mary bursts out in praise of God and quotes several Scripture references. She seemingly grabs many texts from various places and puts them together into a song. In much the same way, many Christmas hymns grasp truth from Scripture and wrap them in prose so that we may express it in music.

We will begin our advent series with “O come, O come, Emmanuel” written in Latin over 1,200 years ago. It originates from monastic life in the 8th or 9th century.  The composer is unknown.

In 1861, John Mason Neale translated the hymn to English, and there are a few English translations created since Neale penned the first. (Full lyrics are at the end.) Before we get into the hymn, let’s make three observations that set this hymn apart from all the other Christmas hymns.

First, unlike many Christmas carols, the hymn is not celebrating the coming of Christ but is instead anticipating and crying out for His arrival. The hymn is written for singing about anticipating Christ’s appearance in the manger of Bethlehem. It is truly a song for advent, which is a word meaning the anticipation of a person or event.

Another observation is that the hymn speaks from the perspective of Israel. It is written by Christians in Europe who see all Christiandom as sons of Abraham, thus as Israelites. From the hymn writer’s perspective, we are Israelites.

Lastly, the hymn uniquely is a worship song declaring the need for salvation. It speaks of sin, death, darkness, and other themes expressing our need for God’s intervention.

O Come, Emmanuel, and Ransom the Captive

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

In the first stanza, the hymn-writer reveals to us the identity of Emmanuel; He is the Son of God. Emmanuel is the name given to the Messiah in both Luke and Matthew’s gospels (Matthew 1:23; Luke 2:10-12). The angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will give birth to the Messiah.

The name Emmanuel means God with us. Isaiah says that a child will be born to us, a son will be given, and He will be Mighty God. Gabriel tells Mary to name Immanuel, the Messiah, Jesus.

The hymn-writer recognizes that all of us are captive. We are in bondage held captive to sin and death. We mourn because we are in exile. We do not live in the presence of God. Our heart cries to be set free from the bondage of sin and death and to be ransomed so we may be with God. Until the day Emmanuel appears, we remain in exile. We cannot free ourselves. Only Emmanuel can ransom captive Israel.

The primary truth of the stanza comes from Isaiah 35:10, which says:

And the ransomed of the LORD will return
And come with joyful shouting to Zion,
With everlasting joy upon their heads.
They will find gladness and joy,
And sorrow and sighing will flee away.

O come, Emmanuel, and ransom the captive.

O Come, Emmanuel, and Bring Victory Over the Grave

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

Emmanuel is a descendant of King David, who is the son of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2). Again, the hymn-writer calls out in faith to Emmanuel, asking Him to come and free us.

The whole world lies in the power of Satan (1 John 5:19). Satan’s objective is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).

We cannot rescue ourselves from His clutches. Without God’s intervention of grace, we are children of disobedience. All of us face death. Not one of us can overcome death. We need a Savior.

Emmanuel brings healing to all who are oppressed by the devil (Acts 10:38). The writer of Hebrews tells us that Emmanuel renders the devil powerless and frees all who are subject to Satan’s slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15). Emmanuel defeats the greatest of all enemies, which is death.

Emmanuel, the Rod of Jesse, defeats death. “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. Because Emmanuel comes, we may say, “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

O come, Emmanuel, and bring victory over the grave.

O Come, Emmanuel, Cause Darkness to Flee

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

The hymn-writer’s depth of Scripture is remarkable. In this third stanza, he borrows from an Old Testament prophet who is not quoted very often, Balaam.

In Balaam’s final oracle, he prophecies, “A star shall come forth from Jacob, a scepter shall rise from Israel” (Numbers 24:17). The stanza may also be referring to Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 9, which says that “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them (Isaiah 9:2).

John quotes Jesus in the Book of Revelation, saying, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” (Revelation 22:16).

Darkness is gloomy. Very little life may exist in perpetual darkness. When we speak about things that are unpleasant or evil, we say that they are very dark. We do not want to live in the shadows but in the light.

Which one of us may say to the darkness, be gone? Who among us may bring light to the shadows? We are powerless over the darkness. Darkness consumes the world. As time marches on, life seems to become increasingly darker.

Jesus is the light of the world, and all who follow Him walk not in darkness, but in His light (John 1:4, 8:12). Emmanuel is the torchbearer who shines a great light. It is He who spoke in the Creation and said, let there be light.

O Come, Emmanuel, and cause darkness to flee.

O Come, Emmanuel, Bring us Home

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

The hymn-writer takes inspiration from the book of Revelation in calling Emmanuel the Key of David.

To the church in Philadelphia, the angel says, “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens (Revelation 3:7). Jesus is the one who opens wide the door to our heavenly home.

Jesus told His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)

The hymn-writer calls upon Emmanuel to make safe the way that leads on high. David’s Psalm 23 comes to mind. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, guides us in the paths of righteousness. Our Shepherd makes our way safe, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We fear no evil, for He is with us. His rod and staff give us comfort. He leads us to our heavenly home, where we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

O Come, Emmanuel, and bring us home.

O Come, Emmanuel, Teach Us

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

In what ways have the universities and colleges of men taught us about true wisdom and knowledge? The teachings of men are but foolishness compared to the wisdom of God. The wisdom of men is full of bitter jealousy, selfishness, ambition, and pride. It is not wisdom from God, but a wisdom that is demonic.

Without Christ, we are lost.

Jesus is the truth and the Way. He opens blind eyes, so the light shines in the darkness.

Jesus gives us a wealth of understanding because He is the revelation of the true knowledge of God. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).

Jesus comes to us as the wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), the wisdom from above. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. It is wisdom with the seed whose fruit is righteousness and is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).

O Come, Emmanuel, and teach us in the ways of righteousness.

O Come, Emmanuel, Bind the Nations in Peace

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

It is such a joy to sing a song that mines the depth of the names of Jesus. He is Emmanuel, the Rod of Jesse whose rod brings victory. He is the Dayspring who shines the light. He is the Key of David, who opens the door to our home in heaven. He is the Wisdom from on High who teaches us in the paths of knowledge. In this final stanza, the hymn-writer quotes the prophet Haggai and calls upon the Desire of the Nations to bring everlasting peace (Haggai 2:7).

The world exists in continual conflict and war. Not one of us may say we have lived one day in which the nations of the world have been at peace. What is needed is for people to be of one heart and mind and that envy, strife, and quarrels will cease. We are powerless as wars rage on and on. No man or woman can bring peace, though they try.

Isaiah tells us that Emmanuel is the Prince of Peace, and there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). The Messiah to judge between the nations causing them to hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Under the reign of Emmanuel, nations will not lift sword against other nations, and never again will they learn war (Isaiah 2:4)

Oh, come, Emmanuel and bind the nations.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee.

This hymn is beautiful because Every stanza begins with a cry for Emmanuel to minister and bring victory, and every stanza ends with a command for us to rejoice.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel. The faith of the hymn-writer is not a wishy-washy faith wishing that maybe Jesus will come. The hymn-writer knows Jesus shall come. Even before He comes, we are called upon to rejoice.

This may be a song for advent; sung in the Christmas season. But this is also a song that may be sung in the church age. The church age is an age of advent where we anticipate the Second Coming of Emmanuel.

This hymn speaks to our soul because it places faith alone in Christ alone. We need salvation, and Jesus is the only one who may help.

I pray that this beautiful hymn, which finds its truth in the foundation of Scripture, inspires us to sing it with great passion. Perhaps, one of us will be so inspired to put to paper a poem or song which will touch our hearts and point to Christ.

 

 

Lyrics - O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.