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.


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

Rejoice! Rejoice!

black and gray angel statue decor
Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on

Growing up, my family never had any “Advent” traditions. We never went to churches that celebrated or even really acknowledged the season of Advent (other than the pun of “The Christmas ADVENTure” children’s activity event a week or so before Christmas). While my current church doesn’t have any set Advent teaching or programming, we have been singing Christmas songs more regularly during worship over the last month, but that’s about it.

I haven’t been in much of a Christmas mood this year, to be honest. I know the day is just around the corner, but it just hasn’t felt Christmas-y. We hardly decorated around the house this year, and it’s just…I don’t know. We’re busy. Tired. Fighting off winter illnesses. We even missed going to our church’s “Christmas celebration service” because the kiddo was sick and my wife and I were both wiped out as well. On top of that, work has been a bear this season, and it’s just… *shrug* Anyway. No matter how much “holly jolly” music I listen to in the car or around the house, I haven’t felt all that merry and bright–with one exception.

A few weeks ago, we sang “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in church. As soon as I uttered that first line, my heart thrilled and I felt chills up and down my spine. My spirit resonated with that longing. I felt that ache. No, I haven’t suffered under the cruelty of foreign occupation or strained against economic oppression. The circumstances of my life are extremely blessed, and I have it very easy in many respects. But nevertheless, my heart feels weary this year. My mind is taxed. I am longing for the Kingdom of God and the end of the darkness.

And yet.

The Kingdom is here. Now. The wriggling form of a baby in a manger, the agonized moans of an innocent man nailed to a wooden cross, the charged and energized stillness of an empty garden tomb are all evidence of this good news.

The Kingdom invaded earth. The revolution has already begun. And the petty little conflicts I face every day are actually part of a war against the darkness that has already been won, as the Champion of Heaven has slain the bloody giant and redeemed for Himself a people for His own possession.

The good news that I have been given the privilege to proclaim is that God-with-us has ransomed us. Unholy rebels who have sinned against their Creator have been offered forgiveness and adoption as sons and daughters. Because of the great love of God, we who deserve destruction may instead have life.

Sometimes, that proclamation begins by reminding the man in my mirror that there is hope. There is hope. There is hope.

We are not alone. God is with us.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel has ransomed you, sons and daughters of the true Israel.