O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Veni, veni Emmanuel,
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exilio
Privatus Dei Filio.
Gaude, gaude! Emmanuel
nascetur pro te, Israel.
Latin hymn, 12th century, tr. John Neale 1818-1866

This carol may have some of the richest of all the Biblical imagery in our Advent hymns. Its ancient, 12th century Latin text is economical and elegant. It is the kind of song that could persuade many Protestants that a bit of Latin is appropriate in worship. (The 15th century tune is beautiful as well.)

The song calls upon Jesus to “ranson captive Israel, who mourns in lonely exile here.” N.T. Wright has recently underlined the theme of “homecoming from exile” in his writing on Jesus’ ministry and message. The exiles of God’s people were political and spiritual; personal and private. We sing this carol today and remember that the world is full of “exiles,” near and far. Christ comes to gather them all into a new community.

The song bids the Lord of Sinai to come to us in the perfect law-keeper, Jesus. It invites the branch of Jesse and the Key of David to once and forever bring the “government” that the prophets promised and that even Abraham longed for. David’s Kingdom is only a shadow of the Kingdom that entered the world in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of David moved from glory to shame. The Kingdom of Jesus moves from shame to glory. So, to those to whom this child comes, there is something all persons long for: Peace on earth and goodwill among all made in God’s image, but living in the shambles and broken promises of a thousand petty earthly Kingdoms and trembling empires.

He is the Dayspring from on high, the light that those in darkness have waited for. Jesus is the light of life, and his arrival in our world is a time of rejoicing. The lighting of Advent candles is most appropriate to remind us that the light draws near, and will dawn in Bethlehem, on Easter and at the end of history.

He is the incarnate Wisdom of God. Ordering the path of earthly knowledge, but revealing to us the only knowledge that truly matters. He is the great “Desire of Nations,” bringing all the world into himself, and into one Kingdom with one Lord and one Father.

There is no richer hymn anywhere. Every verse suggests a Biblical message. Listen to it often. Meditate on the Christ to whom every word is a prayer. Then be grateful that we can share in the wonderful gift of such music from the church of long ago.

Michael Spencer November 27, 2005


~ by Michael on November 28, 2005.

One Response to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

  1. I share your sentiments–but unfortunately not your ability in Latin. This has been one of my favority hymns since I was a child. I think I sang it for our church when I was about 10 or 11.

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