On this Day Two of Blogmas, we are working with a classic: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This time I can reproduce the lyrics below (also it alludes to, like, 10 different scriptures, and I don’t want to take up too much space here). But, of course, the majority of scriptures are from the prophet Isaiah, so I guess there might be the possibility of a prophetic theme this week.
Although this song has been embedded in Christian culture and is considered Traditional, it was translated from the Latin in 1852 by Thomas Helmore and arranged by John Weaver in 1988. John Weaver has held the copyright since 1988.
#88: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
1 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.
2 O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily:
to us the path of knowledge show;
and teach us in her ways to go. [Refrain]
3 O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times didst give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. [Refrain]
4 O come, thou Root of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save
and give them victory o’er the grave. [Refrain]
5 O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. [Refrain]
6 O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. [Refrain]
7 O come, Desire of nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind;
bid envy, strife, and discord cease;
fill the whole world with heaven’s peace. [Refrain]
There are some lyrics here I’ve never seen in my life, but the italicised ones are stanzas that I 100% remember singing.
Yes, this hymn right here is a classic. So much so, that it has crossed over into the realm of the Christmas Carol. I haven’t seen this in person yet, but I’ve seen many a movie in which carolers pop up on a neighbor’s doorstep singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
I think I’ll skip right to the theology of it, if you don’t mind. Musically, it’s pretty straightforward. The lyrics are what appeal to me the most. I’ve only ever sung stanzas 1, 2, 6, and 7, but I’ll focus on 1 and 2 here.
Stanza 1 calls Jesus “Emmanuel,” the one who is to “ransom captive Israel.” Isaiah 7:14 recounts the Annunciation, the moment when the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and tells her that she will have a son and she is to name him Emmanuel, or Immanuel, Hebrew for “God (El) with (im) us (the nu suffix).”
The use of the term “ransom” is interesting here. On one level, I think of the theological concept of ransom. This New Testament concept suggests/states that Jesus was a ransom for humanity. It’s as if humanity was being held for ransom and Jesus was the $100,000 that had to be paid in order for us to be released.
“Captive Israel” is a reminder of Jesus’ target audience: Originally, He was sent to minister to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). I’m hesitant to speculate as to what exactly held Israel captive, but I would guess that it’s much like that which holds us captive today: the weights and bondage that prevent us from truly living for God. Through Jesus’s act, we were set free from that bondage. We walk in that freedom when we accept grace and release shame/guilt/works, etc.
Stanza 2 refers to Jesus as “Wisdom”. Wisdom is literally embodied in the book of Proverbs. This characteristic has been personified, given a personality, feelings, referred to with the pronouns “she/her,” though much of that may be because Chochma/Hokmah is a female noun in Hebrew meaning “Wisdom”. Though I’m sure you can count on all your fingers and toes all the wise women you have grown to know.
This stanza is an allusion to Proverbs 8:22-31, which describes the role of Wisdom in Creation. Wisdom was present with God at the very beginning, co-creating with God. Hmmm…that makes me think of John 1. The Word. The Word (AKA Jesus) was also co-existent with God and co-creating with God. And Jesus later tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Wisdom. By Golly! We’ve got the whole Trinity in this one verse!
Let me explain: First, Wisdom “orders all things mightily”. Wisdom brings order out of chaos. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of Wisdom, and the Spirit of God is described in Genesis 1 as “hovering over the waters.” (The NRSV says that “a wind from God swept over the face of the waters”, but that Hebrew word, Ruach, means both spirit and wind, depending on what a particular translator wants to convey, or what the most accurate translation is). But my theory is that Wisdom is the Spirit of God, AKA the Holy Spirit, which “teaches us all things” (John 14:26).
Second, the Holy Spirit proceeds from Jesus. Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit when He was alive and doing ministry on earth. When He died, He sent that same Spirit to us, to be our Advocate, Comforter, Teacher, and Judge, among other things. Not only was He filled with the Spirit, but–get this–He was also the very incarnation of God. Remember the Annunciation? Mary, who had never had sex, became pregnant with Jesus (Emmanuel) after an encounter with the Holy Spirit. (Wild, huh?) Because of that, it was kind of like Jesus had both Mary’s and God’s DNA in him. But, that’s not all.
God is an entity/deity that is always at God’s fullness. God can fill many people with His Spirit and power. God can be in all sorts of places at once. But God never loses His essence. God doesn’t leave a part of Godself up in Heaven in order to come down and see how we’re doing. No matter what, He’s always full and complete. God never runs out of His God-ness. Because He’s God. And I believe that this is why even though Jesus had 50% of Mary’s DNA, he could still be both fully human and FULLY DIVINE. I think I’m delving into the realm of metaphysics here. But Jesus’s FULLY DIVINE GOD-NESS is what gave him the ability to carry out his ministry. It’s what resurrected him after he was buried. And his full humanity gave him the weaknesses we have, like hunger and thirst and sadness and despair.
So, lots of theology in one paragraph, simply to say that Jesus, Emmanuel, is literally “God with us.” And this hymn/carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a beautiful picture of what this world awaits when He comes back. Stanza 7 calls Him the “desire of nations.” He is. We desire peace, joy, righteousness, and love. Jesus, Emmanuel, GOD, embodies perfect peace, perfect joy, perfect righteousness, and perfect love.