Continuing the Christmas themed hymn series, I want to put forth one of my absolute favorites, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. If you missed the first Christmas hymn I posted about earlier this week you can view it here: Hymn of the Day: Joy to the World.
This ancient advent hymn originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah. When we sing each verse of this hymn, we acknowledge Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophesies. We sing this hymn in an already-but not yet-kingdom of God. Christ’s first coming gives us a reason to rejoice again and again, yet we know that all is not well with the world. So along with our rejoicing, we plead using the words of this hymn that Christ would come again to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light. The original text created a reverse acrostic: “ero cras,” which means, “I shall be with you tomorrow.” That is the promise we hold to as we sing this beautiful hymn.
Ironically, like Joy to the World, this hymn could also be interpreted as a Second Advent hymn. There is an alternate text that adds this verse to the hymn:
“O Come, Messiah, come again / And rid the world of death and sin. / Return Thou risen Savior and King, / That heav’n and earth at last may sing.” (Hymnal for Worship and Celebration: Word Music, 1986).
However, I would argue that this is probably better used as a Christmas hymn due to the heavy Old Testament prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ during his first Advent. Although I will acknowledge that when we sing it today in church we are anticipating a day when we will be in the presence of our God, Emmanuel, God with us, forever.
I love acapella music, so here is Peter Hollens singing his rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.
Here is the sheet music of one of the many versions of this hymn. There are many different versions with significant changes to the lyrics or to the number of stanzas (or what stanzas are included/excluded).