I have strong feelings about when Christmas music should be played. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and I can't stand for it to be tainted with some obnoxious Mariah Carey tune (sorry, not sorry). However, there are several great Christmas hymns and one in particular that I don't mind listening to any time of year. That song is "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." I plan to write a little series explaining the meaning of each verse, but before I do that, let me explain why it's my favorite.
It's Deeply Rooted in Scripture
While we usually only sing a couple of verses, there are seven in total. They are based on what are called the 7 "O Antiphons." These were 7 verses written in Latin that go back at least as far as the 500s AD. Each "Antiphon" (or verse) begins with a title for Christ based on a prophecy from the book of Isaiah. These titles are "Wisdom," "Lord," "Rod of Jesse," "Key of David," "Dayspring," "King of Nations," and "Emmanuel." You can read more about it here. I love to see the threads of the Old Testament tied together in Christ. Each of these titles tells us something different about Christ and prompts us to reflect on who He is.
It Models Lament
The opening verse is not exactly bright or cheery. Instead, it asks for Emmanuel to come and rescue Israel from their mourning in captivity. Not all verses are as somber, but they are all asking for the Messiah to come and rescue them in some way. Christians often feel guilty about their sadness, but the Bible, and especially the Psalms, have no such qualms. We can learn from the Psalms of lament a pattern of prayer to work through our trials and the emotional havoc they bring. This song conforms to that pattern by longing for redemption and having the confidence to ask God for it. It is this confidence that moves the song from it's somber verses to its joyful chorus: "Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel, shall come to thee, O Israel." As Christians, we simultaneously mourn and rejoice. We can mourn our circumstances and long for deliverance, and yet rejoice because we know that deliverance will someday come.
It prepares us for Christmas
When Isaiah penned the words this song is based on, he couldn't see Jesus. He prophesied but only knew in part what God was going to do in Christ. What was immediately before him, however, was not redemption, but captivity. He saw Israel's sins and knew that God would send them into exile because of it. For him, there was nothing he could do but trust that God would someday send the promised Messiah to rescue his people. We live on the other side of Christ's coming, but we aren't so different. While we know that Christ has accomplished our redemption, we are still waiting for its full effects. Like Isaiah, we too are waiting for Christ to come. Sometimes, it feels like He may never return. I'm sure Israel felt the same way while they waiting in exile. But, praise the Lord, Christmas came, and God became flesh and dwelt among us! Christmas is not only a reminder that Christ came, but also a reminder that he will come again, and that our waiting is not in vain. The somber verses remind us that, despite our many worldly comforts, we are still in need of deliverance, but that gloom gives way to the joy of our hope, that as surely as He came once, He will come again!
That's why "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is my favorite Christmas tune. In the coming days leading up to Christmas, I'll break down each verse and explain its roots in Scripture and how it can comfort us today. Until then, have a merry Christmas season!