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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.

This Advent Carol takes its text from ancient antiphons tied to vespers sung near the end of Advent.  But while the English poet Cynewolf paraphrased texts comparable to the hymn before 800 BC, it was only published as a hymn in Cologne in 1710.  Because of the text's meter and scheme, it's easy enough to pair the words with a variety of tunes.  Perhaps that most commonly sung melody though, is the traditional Veni Emmanuel, which was first linked to the text in 1851.  The tune itself dates as far back ast the 15th Century.

Each verse of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel begins with a title for the Messiah, and refers to many of the prophecies of the book of Isaiah: 

"Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel (God with us)." - Isaiah 7:14

"His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom." - Isaiah 9:7

"On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious." - Isaiah 11:10

The imagery is compelling; it expresses a deep longing for the coming of the Messiah, who will bring about an era of joy and safety, and an end to misery, tyranny and death.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Which phrases or images resonate the most for you when you hear this hymn?  Why?
  • In what ways does society reflect a deep longing for Emmanuel now, in the 21st century?
  • A verse written in 1916 by H.S. Coffin asks "To us the path of Knowledge show, and cause us in her ways to go."  What does it mean to see a path?  And to follow it?

Do you love this Advent hymn as much as we do?  The Knox Chimers will ring a beautiful arrangement during worship on December 13, which starts at 10 AM.  Please join us!