O Come O Come Emmanuel – Rosie Thomas (2008, A Very Rosie Christmas)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Click on image to listen to song for free.

Today, we look at our first traditional Christmas song and my favorite version of the holiday carol.  Each time I do this, I hope to provide some insightful background to the origin and intention of these classics.

First, about our featured artist, Rosie Thomas.  Thomas is a singer/song writer originally from Michigan.  She has a peculiar mixture of talents including music, comedy and film.  My draw to this version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” will be explained a little later.  I’m not incredibly familiar with her other work, but for me this rendition has out shined the test of so many other takes on one of the most well known Christmas songs.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” has long ancestral roots, that it is unclear how far back it goes.  Guesses range the 8th to 15th century AD, and most assume a Latin origin.  It’s nearly impossible to put an author/composer to it’s ownership.  Historically, it has been often used during the last week of Advent, but we are taking a look at it during the first week of Advent.  My reason for this is to continue with the anticipatory approach to this season.  I hope to present Christmas songs in a certain order, so that we listen first to the expectation and need for Christ, then the path of arrival of the Christ, and finally the triumphant announcement of Christ’s coming.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” deals mainly with the prophetic prologue concerning the nation of Israel and God’s plan to rescue them through His Son.  Isaiah 7:14 is used as the primary prophesy for this tune: “the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).”  The context of the lyrics in the Christmas carol reflect a call upon God to rescue Israel from oppression, wondering and sorrow.  Here are all seven verses, although our selection only sings 1, 3, & 6.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save;
Bring them in vict’ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The power of this hymn is found in how it is entirely written in future tense, perfectly capturing the anticipation of salvation history’s greatest event – as if it hasn’t happened yet.  What this accomplishes is showing the ache and longing of God’s people  who were desperate for revival and rebirth.  Generations of waiting, suffering, forgetting and then painfully remembering, once again, that God chose them as His very own nation – but they refused to honor God in return.  Centuries of trying to find answers to all of their problems, but never staying close enough to God and the path that He had set for them so long ago.

Nevertheless, God would not abandon His own – even they had earned such a fate.  Listen to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ paraphrase of Malachi 1, 3, & 4 (the last prophet book in the Old Testament before Jesus arrives):

God said to Israel, “I can’t stop loving you.  You are My heart’s treasure.  But I lost you.  Now I am coming back for you.  I am like the sun that gently shines on you, chasing away the darkness and fear and death.  You’ll be so happy – you’ll be like little calves running free in an open field.  I am going to send a Messenger – The Promised One.  The One you have been waiting for.  The Rescuer.  He is coming.  So, get ready!”

This Christmas song resembles someone being underwater for minutes and then coming up for air.  There is such a yearning in each verse, particularly from the vantage point of a lost people, God’s lost sheep.  But each stanza includes such a declaration of faith and joy in the promise of Emmanuel – God with us!

Rosie Thomas’ voice presents just the right balance between deep longing and quiet faith/joy.  I prefer the softer version of this song as well, which helps to facilitate a focus on anticipation and desire for God to come.

Before we get too excited that Jesus has arrived, let us remember how much we need Him, how long this world has waited for a Rescuer, and how faithful God was/is in delivering on His many and glorious promises!  O! Come, Emmanuel!  God, come be with us!

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