Wednesday, December 17, 2008

O Come O Come Emanuel

O Come O Come Emanuel is one of the oldest Christmas carols still commonly sung and possibly dates from as early as the 12th century though most hymnologist put it in the 15th century. I like this carol but I’m not sure that it is a Christmas song at all. There are several reasons for this.

First the tune is an actual medieval funeral hymn which doesn’t seem to be a good choice of music for a Christmas carol.

Second, the Church at this time believed what is known as “Covenant Theology.” One of the tenants of this type of theology is the belief that all of the promises made to the nation of Israel were transferred to the Church after the resurrection of Jesus. That is why you see the constant references to Israel in this hymn. In the minds of the people who originally sung this hymn they were the New Israel. The Christians at this time considered the words Israel and Church to be nearly synonyms

Third, these were people who had lived through the Black Death. They were being overruns on the East by the Turks. The Moors were invading from the West. Areas that had been predominantly Christian for 100’s of years were being converted to Islam at the point of a sword. The writers of this hymn believed that they lived in dark days.

When you look at the theology and history of the age when this hymn was written its meaning changes. This hymn isn’t about the Advent but the Second Coming. This is the voice of people who live in fear of disease, and invasion. This is a hymn for people who are afraid they are going to be asked to die for their faith. This is a song for people who believe that God will protect them even in times of trials. This is a song about finding hope in hopeless times.

Maybe that makes a good Christmas carol after all.

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 Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan's tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight. Refrain

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. Refrain

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times once gave the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. Refrain

O come, thou Root of Jesse's tree,
an ensign of thy people be;
before thee rulers silent fall;
all peoples on thy mercy call. Refrain

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear. Refrain

Until Next Time
Fai Mao
The Blogger who sings Christmas carols

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