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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You – Future of Forestry (2012, Young Man Follow)

Click on image to listen to song for free.

I suppose its high time for a love song to appear on this blog.  One of the coolest things about music is its uncanny ability to express both sorrow and love.  When a song captures the latter, it is obviously called a love song; and today’s selection is a beautiful love song from God to you.

Future of Forestry is the cryptic, but very Christian songwriting efforts of Eric Owyoung.  Lyrically, FOF doesn’t spell out their beliefs and doctrine like many hymns do; but their ministry is well known – having planted a church in San Diego.  Additionally, the name of the band comes a famed poem penned by C. S. Lewis.

“You” isn’t going to be a song that educates you with intelligent thoughts or sharpen you with a convicting message.  What I hope it does do is simply remind you in an intimate, swooning way that God’s love for you is the greatest part of your existence.  Here is a snapshot:

You are a promise, you are a song…                                                            I want you to know you’re the first thought,                                                   I want you to know the grace you’re made of,                                               I want you to feel that you’re my dear…                                                    Deep as a valley, sweet as a stream,                                                    Dark as a storm cloud, and bright as a dream…                                          I want you to know… 

One of my favorite verses in the Old Testament comes from the obscure minor prophet, Zephaniah:

“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.”    – Zephaniah 3:17

And how about this picture from Isaiah:

“…and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”     – Isaiah 62:5

It is good to meditate on the real and emotional feelings of love that God has for His children.  This is what was intended for us to think upon when Jesus told the parable of the prodigal son and the image of the father running to meet his wayward boy.  God’s love is not like a divine, formless space that just accepts us out of pity.  No, His love is like a perfect father who loves us with a warm embrace of strong, but gentle arms; a smile from his brilliant, gleeful face; honest, deep eyes that see you for all that you are and still wants more; and a true voice that trembles because of His overwhelming affection for you and laughs with pure joy when you come running to Him again!

God’s love is like this because we were made in His image.  Everything we experience in this human life is patterned after His character and being.  The examples of love we enjoy in this life from each other pales in comparison to what God feels for us!  We miss out on the magnitude of this reality because of sin and because of the limitations of this earthly life.  But these limitations will not always be.  Listen to this astonishing revelation from J. I. Packer’s Knowing God:

We have…made the point that God’s end in all things is His own glory – that He should be manifested, known, admired, adored.  This statement is true, but it is incomplete.  It needs to be balanced by a recognition that through setting His love on [people], God has voluntarily bound up His own final happiness with theirs.  It is not for nothing that the Bible habitually speaks of God as the loving Father and Husband of His people.  It follows from the very nature of these relationships that God’s happiness will not be complete till all His beloved ones are finally out of trouble…God was happy without [people] before [we] were made; He would have continued happy had He simply destroyed [us] after man sinned; but as it is He has set His love upon particular sinners, and this means that, by His own free voluntary choice, He will not know perfect and unmixed happiness again till He has brought every one of them to Heaven. He has in effect resolved that henceforth for all eternity His happiness shall be conditional upon ours.

Deep thoughts.  Deep Love.  And, if Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, then all of these truths are related to you.  You.  He wants you to “know the grace that you’re made of.”  He wants you to know that you are loved!  Period.