Christmas Songbook Day 4: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

Technically, we’re in the Advent season, for those who stick to a formal church calendar. I never grew up celebrating Advent, as such. Our household pretty much shifted into full holly-jolly mode on Thanksgiving, if not sooner. (Plus, being Southern Baptist, our high holy days are pretty much Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Super Bowl Sunday… Kidding. Mostly.)

The thing that the Advent season seems to capture is longing. That’s something that we see in the Scriptures as well: a longing for what God has promised to come to pass. This theme is woven throughout the entire story of the Bible. Ever since God promised that the Seed of the woman would crush the head of the Serpent, all of creation had been waiting with groaning for the Messiah to arrive.

This is the anxious anticipation that we see in the writings of the Old Testament prophets, who litigate the Law against God’s people (and God’s enemies) and look forward to the coming King who would defeat God’s foes and unite His people under a single banner. At the beginning of the Gospels, we see people who are still longing and praying for the consolation of captive Israel (Luke 2:25) and the Messiah who would rescue his people.

That’s what Christmas is about: promises kept, prayers answered, and anxious anticipation satisfied.

No Christmas song captures this longing for God’s rescue and victory as much as “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” That’s one of the reasons I love it so. There’s a melancholy tone to it, a mourning-with-hope in the verses that then resolves to hope realized in the chorus.

Rejoice! Rejoice, O Israel! He who is “God with Us” is now truly with us.

And for those of us who have hailed his arrival with joy, repenting of sin and trusting in the saving work of Jesus the Messiah, who died and rose and is coming again–for us, the precious Holy Spirit abides within us as a guarantee that our Emmanuel will return to rescue us on the last day.

Rejoice, indeed.

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I just recently heard this version of the song, and it is, quite literally, a banger:

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