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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So Long, Moses/Deliver Us – Andrew Peterson (2004, Behold the Lamb of God)

Click image to listen to song for free.

I have already explained that I will be taking the next several weeks doing posts on Christmas songs.  The reason for this effort is that I firmly believe God uses some of the most beautiful and significant truth in some of our treasured holiday tunes in order to change our lives for the better.

We begin a full season of Christmas posts with my first repeat artist, Andrew Peterson.  In addition, this will be a double dip into Peterson’s only Christmas album and it may not be the only time I post from it over the next month.  It is that good and it has become an essential part of my Advent experience.

“Behold the Lamb of God” is a unique Christmas record and it is a fantastic live experience.  Every year, Andrew gets a few other artists together for a holiday concert tour where this album is performed sequentially and in full.  He has done this with the likes of Phil Keaggy, Alison Krauss, Bebo Norman, Sara Groves, Derek Webb and many others.  You can find a list of stops for this year’s tour here.

The album is a musical journey through the entire Christmas story, which according to the Bible, really starts way back in the Old Testament with Israel and the prophets.  It is a beautiful build up to the history and the reasons why God sent His Son to us as a baby. Listen to some of the lyrics from the two songs that I have selected for today:

So Long Moses:                                                                                                                     So long, Moses, Hello, Promised Land
It was a long, long road but your people are home
Hello, Saul, First king of Israel
You were foolish and strong so you didn’t last long
Hail, King David shepherd from Bethlehem
Set the temple of God in mighty Jerusalem
You were a king on a throne
Full of power, with a sword in his fist
Has there ever been, ever been a king like this?
Hello, prophets, The kingdom is broken now
The people of God have been scattered abroad
How long, O Lord?
So speak, Isaiah, prophet of Judah
Can you tell of the One this king who’s going to come
Will he be a king on a throne
Full of power with a sword in his fist?
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
Full of wisdom, full of strength, the hearts of the people are his
Prophet, tell us will there be another king like this?
“He’ll bear no beauty or glory, rejected, despised
A man of such sorrow, we’ll cover our eyes
He’ll take up our sickness, carry our tears
For his people He will be pierced
He’ll be crushed for our evils
Our punishment feel by his wounds we will be healed.”
“From you, O Bethlehem, small among Judah
A ruler will come, ancient and strong.”

Deliver Us:                                                                                                                           Our enemy, our captor is no pharaoh on the Nile
Our toil is neither mud nor brick nor sand
Our ankles bear no calluses from chains, yet Lord, we’re bound
Imprisoned here, we dwell in our own land
Deliver us, deliver us
Oh Yahweh, hear our cry
And gather us beneath your wings tonight
Our sins they are more numerous than all the lambs we slay
These shackles they were made with our own hands
Our toil is our atonement and our freedom yours to give
So Yahweh, break your silence if you can
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem
How often I have longed
To gather you beneath my gentle wings’

These songs and this album help us tremendously.  Sometimes we sing the old carols and hymns and the richness that passes out of our lips floats away without comprehension or appreciation.  The Advent services we attend are intimate and warm, but our minds are elsewhere.  The hustle and bustle of this season can be toxic and our information intake focuses too much on trivial things and not enough on legendary truths.

The anticipation of a savior and a king for the nation of Israel (and the world for that matter) was an historical pregnancy unlike anything we can really relate to today.  How can we fathom centuries of wandering, oppression and strife – waiting for deliverance?  How can hear the groans of the earth, yearning for God to finally say, “It is time to send my Son, the Rescuer”?  We need to begin these weeks of reflection and celebration by looking back.  Back before the manger and the angels.  Back before the donkey ride and a Roman census.  Even back before the vision of Mary and the manly decisions of Joseph, her mate.

Let your worship of Jesus this Christmas include the Reason for the Season – which is not just that Christmas is about the coming of Christ.  It is the reason of all reasons: that the world was sick and dying from the self-inflicted pains of total depravity.  It is that we, human-kind, spat in the face of a loving God, and yet He opened His arms to us once again in the most sacrificial, powerful and perfect way by giving us Himself.

Search the Scriptures and remember.  Reflect on your own journey, for those of you who have Jesus in your hearts as Lord and Savior, and recall the significance and meaning of what this life would be like if God had never acted mercifully on your behalf.  We all need perspective on the value of this event we call Christmas.  Let Peterson’s creative flashback of Old Testament times add to your perspective of how God has truly come to deliver us!