Advent Songs: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

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David Bahn-Reflections Podcast 

Isaiah 7:10-17

 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” 13 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17 The Lord will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father’s house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”

Webs Waiting | Sugar Land, TX | October 2022

I love Christmas music! Simple, heart-warming, Delightful and yet profound mysteries are expressed in music and poetry. I will bookend these weeks of Advent devotions with my two favorites. Today will be O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The last week of Advent (leading up to Christmas itself) will be Of the Father’s Love Begotten.

One of my favorite stories about this hymn is about a request that was made for a translation into Latin of this hymn. The request was met with a chuckle. “What? Don’t you know how to do it?” His friend explained, “Of course I know how to do it. But I don’t have to. The original is a 9th century Latin hymn!”

While the hymn as we find it today was first published in the mid 19th century, its origins are actually found in a Benedictine Gregorian chant from the late 8th and 9th century. History tells us that beginning the week before Christmas, the monks would sing a verse a day to prepare their hearts and minds for Christmas.

What’s fascinating about the original seven verses is that each began with a Messianic title from the Scriptures that prophesied and foreshadowed Jesus’ coming:

  • Sapentia (Wisdom) 
  • Adonai (God)
  • Radix Jesse (Stem or root of Jesse)
  • Clavis David (Key of David)
  • Oriens (Dayspring)
  • Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • Emmanuel (God with us)

The last of the original 7 verses is the one we sing today as the first.  But the seven antiphons in reverse order spell, Ero Cras, which means “I will be present tomorrow,” or “I shall be with you tomorrow.”

Interesting. Perhaps even intriguing. But let’s not get sidetracked in the intrigue. Let’s press on to Jesus! God’s great desire is to ransom us, and to do that God will dwell with us: Emmanuel. This is the promise God gave through Isaiah 750 years before Jesus would be born. A virgin would conceive. She would bear a son. He would be called Emmanuel, God with us. Emmanuel is Hebrew for God with us. God has told Ahaz that he had not abandoned Israel. He commands Ahaz to ask for a sign. And in false humility, Ahaz refuses. In the face of that, God promises a son to be born who will be a sign of God’s redemption and presence. 

The immediate fulfillment of that promise would likely be seen as a child born during the time of Israel’s exile. But that child would not be the fulfillment of that promise. That would come 750 years later when Jesus is born of a virgin. Matthew makes that so very clear: 

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us). – Matthew 1:22-23

Jesus has come to be with us for only a short while, but long enough to ransom us. One day we will be with him forever. We pray for that in this hymn. Come, Lord Jesus… Emmanuel!

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

[Verse 1]

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

[Refrain]

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel Shall come to thee, O Israel

[Verse 2]

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law In cloud, and majesty and awe
[Refrain]

[Verse 3]

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
[Refrain]

[Verse 4]

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death’s dark shadows put to flight
[Refrain]

[Verse 5]

O come, Thou Key of David, come And open wide our heavenly home
Make safe the way that leads on high And close the path to misery
[Refrain]

[Verse 6]

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high And order all things, far and nigh
To us the path of knowledge show And cause us in her ways to go
[Refrain]

[Verse 7]

O come, desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease And be Thyself our King of peace
[Refrain]

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