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.

This is the first Carol I learned to sing from memory.  Others, such as Silent Night, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, or O Come all Ye Faithful, I picked up by repetition during many childhood years of wonderful, emotive candlelight services in our church.  But this ancient hymn I carefully learned some time in my late teen years.  It remains my favourite to this day; and yet it is rarely used.  The last time I heard it sung was a performance by a superb choir in the National Library.  Churches, mine included, have largely moved on to newer things.

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.

I’m suffering from Yuletide schizophrenia.  I find myself diving into the Christmas rituals with vigour: writing cards, buying gifts, planning the special days of celebration with family gathered round; and at the very same time my inner Scrooge protests acidly against the frivolity, the commercial pressure and the unthinking conformity of the world. 

“If there is a word to make me shiver with revulsion,”said English writer and actor Stephen Fry,
“It’s the word ‘fun’!”  He’s right, absolutely right!
Fun is great fun, but fun as a value is appalling. 

My favourite Christmas Carol is sung in a minor key; and I suspect that presents a challenge to the modern ear.  I encountered a rather zealous musician once (a young man with a guitar, piercing eyes and no personal space) who vehemently believed that Christians should never sing worship in minor keys.  The technicalities of the argument elude me now; but it went somewhere along the lines of the diminished third insulting the third person of the trinity – whereas the resolution of a major chord is indefatigable testimony to the coming of the Messiah.  This explained, my antagonist said, the preponderance of minor keys in Jewish music.  Complete nonsense!……… and yet……….  Where have the minor keys gone?  You won’t hear them in Coles or Woollies this Christmas; or at Sydney’s Carols in the Domain I’ll wager; and quite possibly not in your church either. Even when bullied for his bright red nose, Rudolf never sang a lament.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Yesterday  a friend died of the disease I was once thought to have.  She is, I think, now seeing those things which we so dimly glimpse; and perhaps for her Christmas has truly come at last.  I had never met this friend in person; indeed during the 18 months  I knew her she almost never left her home.  And yet her voice touched scores of lives around the world with the assured hope that the Saviour will meet our need.

What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.  (1 Corinthians  7)

Step back a little, slow down.  Cultivate some distance from the world around, and acknowledge that there is more going on inside our souls than outside.  Why can’t we yearn to be rescued?  Why pretend that it’s “all good” when it often plainly isn’t?  What’s wrong with waiting for the Messiah to come for us? 

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.

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

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.

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




O come, O come, Emmanuel is a translation of the Latin text “Veni, veni, Emmanuel”  in the mid-19th century. It is a metrical version of a collation of various Advent Antiphons, which now serves as a popular Advent hymn. Its origins are unclear, it is thought that the antiphons are from at least the 8th Century, but “Veni, veni Emmanuel” may well be 12th Century in origin.The text is based on the biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that states that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel (Lit.: God with us). Matthew 1:23 states fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

It is believed that the traditional music stems from a 15th Century French processional for Franciscan nuns, but it may also have 8th Century Gregorian origins. It is one of the most solemn Advent hymns.  (edited, from Wikipedia). 

There are several versions on YouTube, here is one.


3 thoughts on “O Come, Emmanuel

  1. Marie

    We Rejoice in your post! It so aptly reminds us to enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas as we express Christ’s love to others, serve Him more diligently and hold eachother close as we wait for the Lord and recognize that our time together is not something we take for granted. Blessings to you during this Christmas season!

  2. sharon l crump

    We sing that hymn all during Advent. It is my favorite too. I like the happy/sad minor key…its all about longing for the Messiah. Now our dear friend is gazing into the Face of her Beloved. But we too can gaze, during the quiet contemplative times of this season. Slowing down, looking out the window, I see a white birch tree stripped of all its leaves but behind it is a tall evergreen, which you can only see when the birch is naked. The branches dance in the wind…I could and have looked at this scene for hours as I pray. Christmas Blessings to you Roderick and your family.

  3. norma chalmers

    I have pondered over these words all week but try as I might they are not familiar.I then went to a music shop hoping to buy a c.d. but no,not anywhere were they to be found.I will keep trying !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s