We are in the season of Advent again. Coming from the Latin word Adventus, advent means “coming” or “arrival”. It is the time of the Christian Year when the church prepares for the celebration of our Lord’s birth, beginning four Sundays before Christmas Day. 1
From the time of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, faithful Jews had, through the centuries, anticipated with great longing and expectation the coming of the Promised Deliverer. The wait was finally over with the angelic announcement, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, NIV)
‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ is an anonymous Latin hymn that has its origins in the seven great Advent antiphons or short musical statements, sung in the medieval church at vespers before and after the ‘Magnificat’, during the week before Christmas. The original Latin text was translated by John Mason Neale for his Medieval Hymn in 1851. 2
Sung to an ancient French chant, ‘Veni Emmanuel’, this Advent hymn captures the plaintive mood of yearning and longing of the old Israel for the first coming of the Messiah. Now during every Advent, the church continues to hope and long for the return of the Risen Christ who will restore all of creation.
Each stanza begins with a long-drawn “O Come” antiphon of deep yearning addressed to different titles ascribed to the promised Messiah throughout the Old Testament: Emmanuel, Wisdom, Lord of Might, Root of Jesse’s tree, Key of David, Dayspring, and Desire of nations.
So while death still snatches away our loved ones, disease still makes us miserable, calamity still strikes, Satan still prowls like a roaring lion, and sin still indwells, we nevertheless still wait and hope with joy, continuing to long for the final deliverance when our Emmanuel shall come.
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (The United Methodist Hymnal, #211)
- 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 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)
- O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. (Refrain)
- O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. (Refrain)
- O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home.
The captives from their prison free,
and conquer death’s deep misery. (Refrain)
- O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thy justice here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. (Refrain)
- O come, Desire of nations bind
all peoples in one heart and mind.
From dust thou brought us forth to life;
deliver us from earthly strife. (Refrain)
Words: 9th century Latin, translated by John Mason Neale, 1851
Music: 15th century French Chant, arr. and harm. by Thomas Helmore,1854
1 Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace: 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions (Grand Rapids, Mich: Kregel Publications, 1990), 346.
2 Frank Colquhoun, A Hymn Companion: Insight into Three Hundred Christian Hymns (Wilton: Morehouse Barlow, 1985), 51.
Dr Yeo Teck Beng –
is a member of Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church.
Picture by weyo/Bigstock.com