Advent and Christmas are together a wonderful season of worship in the Church. The singing of Advent hymns and Christmas carols is a particularly enjoyable tradition. This year, Vince and I thought it would be good to highlight one hymn or carol each week to point out some of the deeper meanings of the words we sing in our worship of God, who sent to us His Son Jesus, our Emmanuel.
This week we highlight the Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”. The text is found as early as the eighth century in Latin form. It was likely chanted by the clergy in responsive fashion during the vespers (evening) services in the days leading up to Christmas. It was translated into English by John M. Neale in 1851 and was arranged with the tune Veni Emmanuel in 1856 by Thomas Helmore.
The verses that we have in our hymnals (# 194) focus on Israel’s hope in the coming Messiah. Israel looked with anticipation for He who would be Emmanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus is of course our Emmanuel. He is God the Son incarnate who has ransomed us from our captivity to sin and death by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. Messiah was also to be the stump and root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-2). Other kings in Judah’s history were called the son of David but Messiah is referred to as being the remnant (stump) of Jesse or even being before (root) Jesse. This underscores the significance of Messiah. He is not just a son of David like other kings before Him. Rather, He is the better David, the once and for all king of God’s people. Emmanuel was also to be the “Dayspring from on high,” that is the sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2) who would visit God’s people in the midst of their troubles to vanquish the darkness in which they dwelled (Luke 1:78). Finally, the Messiah is the Key of David (Isaiah 22:22; Revelation 3:7), meaning that He has all the authority to rule over God’s people. David ruled from Jerusalem, but Jesus rules from on high, from the New Jerusalem, where God’s people will dwell eternally in glory with Him.
Christ has come, our Emmanuel, and has already established His kingdom, but He is also still yet to come. So we sing this hymn with eyes and hearts looking both to the past and the future. We look back with joy at the birth of Jesus in the town of Bethlehem, but we also look forward with hope to the return of Christ and the fulfillment of His kingdom come.