Friday, December 1: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
This is the first hymn in this devotional series because it captures the whole mood of Advent (from the Latin root “Come”): joyful expectation, deep yearning for Christ.
Let’s dig deeply into this hymn to gain a deeper understanding of that for which we wait during Advent.
Verse 1: O come, o come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Emmanuel means “God with us.” The people Israel were exiles (taken as prisoners of war) in Babylon after Israel’s army was defeated in 586 BC. During Jesus’ day, the Jews were under the captivity of the Roman Empire. The people Israel waited for the promised Messiah (“anointed one” of God) who would rescue them for foreign military rule. A ransom is paid to the captor in exchange for the prisoner. The Son of God came and gave up his life in exchange for ours; early church fathers taught that Christ’s death was the ransom price paid to Satan and to death itself to set humanity free from the power of death and evil. We have been freed in Christ from sin, death, the devil, and all evil, so we do not mourn…we rejoice!
Verse 2: O come, o come, great Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times once gave the law in cloud and majesty and awe.
This verse refers to Moses and the Hebrews who received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. Jesus Christ is equated with the God of the Old Testament. God the Son fulfills the law in us so that we are righteous (in a right relationship) with God.
Verse 3: O come, strong Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell your people save and give them victory over the grave.
Hear these two Scripture passages which refer to the Branch of Jesse:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” -Isaiah 11:1 (NRS)
“The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” -Jeremiah 23:5 (NRS)
Jesse was David’s father. Jesus is the descendent from David whom God promised. In Jesus, God’s promises are fulfilled. The devil has no power over you, and death doesn’t have the last word in your life; Christ does! And he says that you will live with him forever!
Verse 4: O come, blest Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by your advent here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
In Luke 1:78, Zechariah prophesies about Christ’s birth: “the dawn/dayspring from on high will break upon us.” Christ is the light of dawn or dayspring, for he is the light that shines in the darkness, the one who rescues us from all darkness in the world and in our own hearts. You need not fear anything, for almighty God came to rescue you and will rescue you from death and all gloom and sorrow in your life.
Verse 5: Oh come, O Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path of misery.
Isaiah 22:22 and Revelation 3:7 both refer to the Key of David who “opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev. 3:7 NRS). You have heard Jesus say, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt. 7:13-14 NRS). You have found it because Jesus found you. The way to eternal life is open to you because of Jesus Christ, and no one can take that from you!
Refrain: Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!
We rejoice because Christ has already done all of this for us! We rejoice because he is coming again to make all things right! We rejoice because Christ is with us always and reveals himself to us every day! And so through these 25 days of Advent we pray: O come, o come, Emmanuel, into this Advent! Into our hearts! Into our way of seeing the world! Into our families! Into our homes! Into our words and actions! Into our relationships! Rejoice, for he shall come to you today. Tomorrow. All the days to come.