Christmas is a time of both celebration and reflection on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Through the use of Christmas hymns and carols, we are reminded of just how amazing God’s love for us is, and of the sacrifice Christ made for us all by dying for our sins and redeeming us.
Christmas is a time of both celebration and reflection on the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Through the use of Christmas hymns and carols, we are reminded of just how amazing God’s love is for us and of the sacrifice Christ made for us by dying for our sins and redeeming us. One of the most unusual, beautiful and biblically and theologically insightful Christmas songs is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
Unlike any other Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” connects the joy of the arrival of the Savior with the longing of the 2nd coming. It is both joyful and sad. The lyrics go back to the 12th century, and is set to music from a funeral procession composed by Franciscan nuns in the 15th century called Libera me (set me free). The following are the stanzas of the song with some brief commentary to help illuminate the meaning of the verses for either personal or group reflection:
Oh, come oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Immanuel means “God with us.” It is from Isaiah 7:14, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (God with us). “Ransom captive Israel” means to buy out of slavery. We have been set free but this is not yet fully experienced. We rejoice for the Savior and long for his return.
Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
The rod of Jesse refers to Isaiah 11:1. “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse. It is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah through the line of David. Jesse was the father of David (the stem) and Jesus, who came from the line of David, is the Rod. As David conquered, Jesus is also the rod that conquers. Christ came and conquered both sin and death. We have seen and experienced his power to save us, and we await and long for the day that we get to be with Him.
Oh, come, O 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.
The “Key of David” is from Isaiah 22:22. “The key of the house of David will I lay up on his shoulder.” The House of David means God’s authority on earth. Jesus is the key who unlocks the authority to save and bring us home. We rejoice and long to be with Christ.
Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
The word “Dayspring” means rising of the sun. It comes from Zachariah and is also mentioned in Luke 1:78. “The day spring from on high has visited us.” Within the stanza there is beautiful imagery of Christ as the rising sun that disperses the gloomy clouds and puts darkness to flight.
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
This stanza comes from Ephesians 2:14. “For he himself is our peace, who has mad the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility….” One of the worst clouds is the cloud of division, whether that is represented in racism, violent nationalism, etc. Christ came to end these divisions and to unite us together in his love. The Church is called to be a place where we can manifest God’s love and where this reconciliation can take place. We rejoice in God’s power to unite us in His love and we long for the day that peace and reconciliation is fully realized!
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