O’ Come, O’ Come, Emmanuel

In my local church’s adult Sunday school, for the Christmas season all through December, we are going through different advent hymns and discussing the scriptural and doctrinal significance of them.

I am blessed to be one of the teachers (there are three of us trading off) presenting the material. I decided to do my (and other’s) favorite hymn. I just wanted to share what we did. I hope you enjoy and that it gives some hope in whatever circumstance God has brought forth in your life.

There is something to be said of Christmas hymns. They are often full of rich and weighty theological truths that, sadly, we only reflect on during the advent season. This is one that has no exception to this fault of our cultures’ oft neglect towards greater truths. As John Piper says of this hymn,

“This translation of an anonymous Latin hymn doubles as a prayer for the first and second coming of Christ. It takes us into the mind of old Israel, longing for the first coming of the Messiah. And it goes beyond that longing by voicing the yearning of the church of Christ for the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to consummate the history of redemption.”

It follows Isaiah predominantly, and to such a tight line, that to miss it is to be an unobservant reader of the text. Other texts of scripture fill out the rest of the hymn. Each stanza begins with a familiar refrain, 

  1. O come, O come, Emmanuel – Isaiah 8:8
  2. O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free – Isaiah 11:1
  3. O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high – Luke 1:78 – Isaiah 9:1–2
  4. O come, Thou Key of David, come – Isaiah 22:22
  5. O come, Adonai, Lord of might – Hab 2:3–4

Every stanza ends with the same text, 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This may come from Paul’s admonition to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice!” Phil 4:4(NET)

The first stanza itself speaks of exile,

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.

It may be a double entendre (if arranged to the liking) pertaining to the awaiting of ancient Israel for the Messiah whilst in exile or the Christian awaiting Christ to come and complete the redemption he has already accomplished.

The second stanza continues the progression of awaiting the Messiah. 

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.

Christ has come and returned to his heavenly abode after death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. It is his death and resurection that gives victory over the grave and freedom from Satan’s tyranny.

 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. Now when this perishable puts on the imperishable, and this mortal puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will happen,
Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Cor 15:53–58(NET)

The words, “From depths of hell Thy people save,” I believe are speaking of Christ’s resurrection. It is reminiscent of the Apostle’s creed and also in Peter,

“Because Christ also suffered once for sins, 
the just for the unjust,
to bring you to God, 
by being put to death in the flesh
but by being made alive in the spirit.
In it he went and preached to the spirits in prison,”
1 Peter 3:18–19(NET)

The third stanza emphasizes the state of the world in which we live,  

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.

It contains language depicting the darkness of our current state. The destitute culture around us, the sin that permeates everything. We long for the dispersement of this gloomy darkness by the coming of the dawn, the Dayspring,

Because of our God’s tender mercy
the dawn will break upon us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78–79(NET)

The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious.
In earlier times he humiliated
the land of Zebulun,
and the land of Naphtali;
but now he brings honor
to the way of the sea,
the region beyond the Jordan,and Galilee of the nations.
The people walking in darkness
see a bright light;
light shines
on those who live in a land of deep darkness.
Isaiah 9:1–2(NET) (the Hebrew has verse two is verse 1)

2 Peter 1:19 is also reminiscent towards this theme of living in this world of darkness awaiting the morning star or… the dayspring “Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Isaiah 40:3–5 (NET)
A voice cries out,
“In the wilderness clear a way for the Lord;
build a level road through the rift valley for our God.
Every valley must be elevated,
and every mountain and hill leveled.
The rough terrain will become a level plain,
the rugged landscape a wide valley. 
The splendor of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it at the same time.
For the Lord has decreed it.”

The forth stanza is directly pulled from the section of Isaiah quoted above. It speaks of a level path; one that is easy to traverse. That he is coming and there is no excuse to draw to him, for he is entirely accessible. The stanza itself couches this in terms for those awaiting the coming of Christ, the true key to the house of David,

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.

The last stanza brings us back to the beginning of the advent hymn to remind us of the unity within the persons of the Father and the Son.

O come, Adonai, 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.

Along with the Spirit every person of the Godhead were all present with the giving of the Law. And much like the tumult caused by the cloud descending, Christ’s return will be frighteningly similar to those not awaiting it with exuberance. Notice the similar language and tone of the following references, 

Luke 21:27  “Then they will see the Son of Man arriving in a cloud with power and great glory.” 

Ezek 30:3 “For the day is near,
the day of the Lord is near;
it will be a day of storm clouds,
it will be a time of judgment for the nations.”

Psalm 99:7 “He spoke to them from a pillar of cloud;
they obeyed his regulations and the ordinance he gave them.”

Ex 24:15–18  “Moses went up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord resided on MountSinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moses from within the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in plain view of the people. Moses went into the cloud when he went up the mountain, and Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”

Ex 20:18–21 “All the people were seeing the thundering and the lightning, and heard the sound of the horn, and saw the mountain smoking – and when the people saw it they trembled with fear and kept their distance. They said to Moses, “You speak to us and we will listen, but do not let God speak with us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you so that you do not sin.” The people kept their distance, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”

The return of Christ will be much different than the advent we celebrate at Christmas time. It has a two fold purpose,
1) To save those awaiting his appearing for their long awaited consummation
2) To vindicate his justice amongst the peoples who reject and scorn him,

 “Then the kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, because the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

Rev 6:15–17(NET)

Are you awaiting the return of the blessed child born in Bethlehem with obedience and diligent anticipation? Or are you afraid and seeking the created order to protect you from his mighty and frightening wrath? Find hope elsewhere if you are of the latter and not the former.

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