O Come, O Come Emmanuel

shallow focus photo of the Nativity figurine
The Christmas carol known as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was written by an unknown author in Latin, but the tune itself has by sung in monasteries since the 8th century. It was translated by John Neale and Henry Coffin in 1861.

In that little town of Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago, there was an event that changed history known as the Christmas story. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” highlights the significance of a Savior born for us. The first line says, “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here Until the Son of God appears.” The author shows urgency in his prayer with the words, Come, Come, and the word Emmanuel means God with us. Emmanuel refers to the Lord of Life who is so humble and so gracious to enter our corrupted and selfish world and be born in a 300 person town. The hymn continues, “and ransom captive Israel who mourns in lowly exile here.” This imagery refers to the Israelites of the O.T. and the current Israelites, you and I.  To ransom essentially means to redeem by a payment. 

It might be a little alarming to be told that we are held captive to something, but this is what Jesus Himself says in John 8:34, “Truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” We all are in slavery to sin, and we can only be released by a perfect payment. John 8 continues with, “the slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” We, the slaves, in order to be set free need the door to be opened and a plan to sustain life. These are found in our Savior, Jesus Christ, and His payment upon a wooden cross.  For releasing us who deserved condemnation for sins, the Son of God had to be punished by the Father. The hymn tells us that we must be ransomed from our slavery, and only by the Son of God appearing in human form we are able to be ransomed.  Therefore, “rejoice! Rejoice, [the] Emmanuel shall come to thee, Israel.”

Additionally, the third stanza reads, “O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s tree Free them from Satan’s tyranny that trust they mighty power to save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave.”  The tree of Jesse, David’s father, refers to the old Jewish lineage of kings. Yet, from David’s bloodline, Jesus was born, and through Him is the new branch (or vine) of Life. Jesse was the father of King David of Israel, and so, the is called Jesse’s because the father ought to have responsibility for his children. By the branch of wood which Jesus had to carry to His death, we find freedom from Satan’s tyranny and forgiveness and life. Through His Resurrection, we receive victory over the grave.
Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving our sin-filled humanity more than your glorious Heaven. Thank you for being born for us, for redeeming us, and for rising triumph over the grave for us. We thank and appreciate your gift of hymns and their special teaching power based on Your Holy Word. We pray you would bless our Christmas this year and protect us wherever we travel. Please be with us and strengthen, support, motivate, and propel us.  Lastly, we ask we would remember to bear our neighbor’s burdens as our burdens, just as You assumed humanity for us. In Your Precious and Holy Name we pray, Amen.

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