Sunday, December 16, 2012

CHRISTMAS HYMN STUDY; O COME EMMANUEL



CHRISTMAS HYMN STUDY: O COME EMMANUEL
The Lyrics
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.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

This hymn is a metrical version of one the “O Antiphons” from the final week of Advent vespers in the Roman Catholic Church.  It was originally written in Ecclesiastical Latin text as "Veni, veni, Emmanuel". . It may go back as far as the 8th Century. It certainly is known by the 12th century in Latin. In the mid-19th century, John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin wrote the music for it that we know today. Others have tinkered with the words when publishing it in various hymnals.
An antiphon (Greek ντίφωνον, ντί "opposite" + φωνή "voice") is a responsive chanting by a congregation to a text in a religious service or musical work. Many Baptist hymnals have “responsive readings” in the back, which are the same sort of thing.

 The "O Antiphons" each starts with a title for the Messiah. Additionally, each one refers to a prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah.
Let’s examine the theology of the hymn, starting with the first stanza.
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.

The text is based on the of Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel. Matthew interpreted the verse as applying to the birth of Jesus. After relating the speech of the angel to Joseph, Matthew explained that “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet” and then quotes the verse from Isaiah. He also translated the word Emmanuel for his readers, writing “which means God with us”. (Matthew 1:22-23).
The first stanza portrays Israel yearning for the Messiah to come and ransom them from sin and save them from the sinful world in which they, and we, are exiles. Peter addressed his first letter to the “elect exiles”. He called our time on earth “the time of your exile” and spoke of our being ransomed from our sinful ways by Christ. (1 Peter 1:1, 17-18).  

Now let’s look at the second stanza:
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The “rod of Jesse” refers to Isaiah 11. Isaiah 11:1 says “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit”. Verse 10 says “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples, of him shall the nations inquire and his resting place shall be glorious”. Jesse was the father of David. So, Isaiah was saying that a greater David will come, from the line of the king, and will be important. He will be a new shoot from an otherwise dying tree.
In this stanza, the work of salvation is shown as freeing us from death and hell, the province of Satan.
Here is the third stanza:
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
This stanza asks Christ to come and bring us joy by relieving us of the fear of death and darkness. Christ is referred to a “Day Spring”. This comes from the praise of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:77-79, which in the old versions says “To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our god, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace”. (King James Version)
The English Standard Version, a new translation, says “the sunrise shall visit us” instead of the dayspring on high. The New International Version uses “the rising sun” and the New American Standard Bible uses “sunrise”. The idea is that Jesus is the light that dispels the darkness of fear. Many people are afraid of the dark, because it is when bad people and things can come out and remain hidden or disguised. Almost everyone is afraid of death to some degree. Woody Allen said he was not afraid of dying, he just did not want to be there when it happened. But Jesus came to dispel sin and darkness and the fear associated with them.
John wrote “In him (Jesus) was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. (John 1:4-5) Darkness in the Bible often symbolizes sin, lostness, and depravity. Jesus is the light that exposes these and drives them away. Isaiah 9:2 looked forward to the coming of Christ and said “the people living in darkness have seen a great light”. Matthew said that was fulfilled when Jesus went into Galilee. (Matthew 4:12-16)
Now, the fourth stanza reads:   
            O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
This stanza asks Jesus to come and show us the way to heaven. The “key of David” is a reference to Isaiah 22:22. In Isaiah 22, God appointed a new man to be the steward of the house of David. God said he would “place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open and none shall shut and he shall shut and none shall open.” By this, God meant that the steward would make binding decisions for the house of David. He had full authority to do so.
The hymn asks Christ to unlock the way to heaven for us and to keep us secure or safe in it. Christ’s decision to take some one to heaven  will never be undone.
For example, in John 17:2, Jesus said “you have given him (Jesus) authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.” In John 6:39, he said “and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day”.
Finally, the last verse reads as follows:
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
In the last verse, you have a Trinitarian statement of sorts, for the writer places Christ with the Father in might and glory, giving the law to Israel on Mount Sinai with signs of majesty. You might remember that when Israel gathered at Mount Sinai to receive the covenant law, there were “thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain”. (Exodus 20:16)
Finally, please note that each stanza has a two line refrain calling for God’s people to rejoice at the coming of Emmanuel, of the one who is God with us. Indeed, Jesus said he would be with us always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
In the midst of all that goes on at Christmas, the most important thing is to rejoice that Christ has come, is with us and is coming again.
            Rejoice this week. God is with you.

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