O Come, O Come, Emmanuel is Advent’s most famous hymn. Even us low-Protestants know it (smile), which cannot be said of most Advent hymns. It’s low, haunting tune resonates. The words woven from the rich texts of the Old Testament telling the story of “God with us”.
The words to this compelling hymn were penned by some anonymous monk during the Dark Ages. Civilization was despairing, sliding further and further into chaos, ignorance, pestilence, and warfare. The Dark Ages were the bleakest of wildernesses, resembling more a circle of hell than a wilderness.
The Bible was not accessible to most people in the Dark Ages. The monk who composed this song must have had a full and rich knowledge of Scripture. The song is built on phrases from Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah. For those living in Medieval Europe who did not read or have access to any Bible, this song was a teaching tool, expressing the hope, truth, and fulfillment of prophecies in the birth of Christ.
Here are is the English translation to this hymn with biblical references:
- O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
(This first verse appears to be based on Psalm 137 where the people of Judah are lamenting their captivity in babylon.)
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
shall come to thee o Israel!
(The text is based on the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel, God with us. Also referenced in Matthew 1:23.)
O come, Thou Wisdom, from on high,
and order all things far and nigh;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain.
(The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. ~ Isaiah 11:2.)
O come, o come, Thou Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law,
in cloud, and majesty, and awe. Refrain.
(From Exodus 19:16-20 when Moses brings the Israelites to meet God at Mt. Sinai and God summons Moses to meet on the mountain.)
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
from ev’ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict’ry o’er the grave. Refrain.
(Another reference from Isaiah 11: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”)
O come, Thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heav’nly home,
make safe the way that leads on high,
that we no more have cause to sigh. Refrain.
(“I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.” ~ from Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7)
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
and cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Refrain.
(From Israel’s wandering in the wilderness after the death of Moses, Numbers 24:17).
O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid every strife and quarrel cease
and fill the world with heaven’s peace. Refrain.
Who knew that words penned before 800 A.D. would stretch across the ages and speak to the hearts of those in the 21st century?
O come, o come, Emmanuel. Amen.