O COME O COME
If you want to feel some yuletide glee, this carol might not be the best to slide in your Spotify Christmas party playlist. In fact, the carol we’ll be discussing in this post retrospectively steps into the shoes of Israel yearning for the promised Messiah in the midst of despair and hopeless gloom. If that doesn’t make the sleigh bells ring in the Christmas joy, I don’t know what will. Nevertheless, I hope to challenge both you and I with this convicting carol, O Come O Come Emmanuel, that reveals Jesus as our Deliverance.
Originally written in Latin, O Come O Come Emmanuel has been in the Christian faith for over a thousand years, penned around the 7th or 8th century AD and accredited to a nameless monk. Interestingly enough, this hymn started out as an “O Antiphon” which is a liturgical practice that reaches back arguably to the 5th century.
In advent season the liturgy of old (as well as present day Catholicism and certain liturgical congregations) would recite an antiphon, or a short sentence sung or recited phrase, during evening prayer services called Vespers. This would take place from December 17th to December 23rd, each day speaking a different Messianic O Antiphon. Each antiphon named a different attribute or name of Jesus, which is where we find the introduction to the verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel.
Here’s the kicker. How can an old liturgical guy writing Latin poetry still be able to pluck your heartstrings and lead the modern day Jesus follower in worship? He’ll start out with Israel, our distant spiritual ancestors, and indirectly show us how sweet the fulfillment of prophecy Jesus Christ is and how relieving it is to be under a covenant of grace that He has given us.
[While there are five main verses to “O Come O Come…” for the sake of focus and attention spans, we’ll just address the name of Emmanuel and the weight it carries with the main content from its respective verse.]
EMMANUEL (God with Us)
And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
I believe this to be the most emotional verse of this carol. Israel is calling out as a kidnapped child would, mourning their captivity, yet in hope that their Father will rescue and ransom them.
As sure as an earthly father’s assurance brings comfort to a trembling child, our Heavenly Father spoke much greater in Exodus 6:6, “I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement.” I will free you. I will redeem you.
And even greater still, this phrase of paying ransom for captive Israel is not only speaking to their enslavement to Egypt, but to the grander ransom from the enslavement of sin and the fulfillment of His Law.
The entire carol is riddled with problems of a needed Messiah that are answered in Jesus’ first advent, death and resurrection:
Give us victory over the grave! Free your people from Satan’s tyranny!
‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where 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. - 1 Corinthians 15:55-57
Since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. - Hebrews 2:14
Come and cheer our spirits by your coming and rid us of death’s dark shadows!
Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. - Matthew 28:20
...for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’ - Hebrews 13:5
And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever - John 14:16
THE DISTANCED HEART OF ISRAEL
Israel cried out for deeper intimacy with God. They asked for deliverance from their spiritual and physical captivity and pleaded for Him to be with His children.
God’s people felt their distance from God. They felt the insufficiency of their pursuit of perfectly fulfilling the law. They felt the hopeless transition from once seeing a pillar of fire signifying His presence to now looking up to “gloomy clouds of night”.
And even in the yearning, when Jesus embodied flesh in the first advent in Bethlehem, His people that once so desperately called for a Messiah now turned their faces with contempt. They denied that God would work by such means as a baby raised among a lowly family and in an insignificant place. In Luke 4:14-30, they’ll hear Him speak of Himself from the Scriptures and people would grow to despise Him more, even to the degree of wanting to throw Him from a cliff. Eventually, they’d nail Him to a cross.
Peter spoke at Pentecost to the “Men of Israel” saying, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” He calls not only to them, but to all those whose sin were bore on the shoulders on an asphyxiated Jesus. Peter spoke of God’s offer, who sent His only Son to bear this weight saying, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” God promises deeper intimacy. The closest He has offered in a covenant so far in man’s history, an indwelling of His Spirit with ours. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.”
Every believer faces some sort of struggle with ‘feeling the presence of God’ just like the Israelites felt when the pillar of fire was no longer visible. Furthermore, when God physically provided Manna for the Israelites, they still disobeyed God and became discontent with God’s provision.
Where has the negligence of God’s blessing creeped in your life?
What gifts from God have you overlooked?
What thoughts come to mind when you think of Jesus? Are they constricting or freeing?
Do you anxiously await His second coming?
Do your hopes and anticipations ultimately align with glorifying God?
If Israel had already seen God’s presence physically and struggled in belief, what more do we need help having not seen Him with our own eyes? Believers, acknowledge that God has given you Himself through Jesus Christ and has instilled in you the Holy Spirit that’s meant to comfort you at the deepest level of the human experience. There is no deeper intimacy than that which concerns spiritual matters and He has chosen to empower you with His Spirit.
He is with us. To provide joy, to be present in the pain. And our response lies in an onlooking refrain, thankful for the retrospect, but altered to fit our present covenant, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to us, O Israel.”
Recommended Song of the Week: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - The Creek Music (Featuring Sara Bayliss and Dalton Hutton)