Although the author of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” ambled into history as “anonymous,” his poignant song has traveled from 12th century monasteries to modern-day hymnbooks. The mournful melody juxtaposed with the lyrical command to “rejoice” may strike some as peculiar, but for Christians, the song reaffirms our heart’s deep desire for Christ’s return, even in troubling times.
O come, O come, Emmanuel… Whenever we sing this carol, we ask, not once, but twice that Emmanuel come. Perhaps the author who penned these words was so driven by a heartfelt longing for God’s return to earth that he felt he must ask twice for Emmanuel’s advent. Or maybe he wanted to remind us that the Savior would indeed come again. Israel’s cry in the first century was for the Messiah’s first appearance. Two thousand years later, we cry out for His Second Coming.
Emmanuel. God with us. The name that sums up what Christmas means for the believer. It’s not that God simply chose to become a man so that He could feel what it’s like to be in our shoes. Or that we needed a friend in God, and He wanted to be more accessible. God made Himself a servant. The infinite God enclosed Himself in a woman’s womb for nine months. God Himself was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a feeding trough for a bed. God made Himself vulnerable. Picture Jesus, the firstborn above all creation, the one through whom God spoke the creation of the world, sitting on His mother Mary’s lap, learning to read and write! Such mysteries can never be fully explained. But it’s the story of God coming to man – God’s being with us – that lies at the heart of the Christian worldview. O come, O come! God, be with us!
And ransom captive Israel… The Jews were not praying for the Messiah’s appearing as one would hope to see a solar eclipse or desire to witness a fascinating event. They knew that when the Messiah would come, He would ransom captive Israel. Surely, God had seen their mourning in lonely exile under Babylon and now Rome. Their warrior – God’s Representative would soon be on the way. Most Jews looked forward to the day when God would come and put His world to rights, end their exile, fulfill His promises and rescue His people. But those events would not transpire until the Son of God appeared.
Rejoice! Oppressed and languishing in a spiritual state of exile, first-century Jews could still cry out with expectation and hope, Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel! Like a prisoner who weeps when he discovers he will soon be pardoned, Israel could rejoice through the tears of exile, because they knew their God to be a God who keeps His word, One who always fulfills all He has promised His people.
O Come, Thou Dayspring! The second verse of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” although not as well-known as the first, communicates our longing for the Messiah’s return. Just as the morning star serves as a sign that morning has broken, so Jesus’ first advent stands as a “flash-forward” of God’s glorious future for His people. Now, we await the return of the Day-Spring.
Come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here. We are comforted in knowing that the coming Day of the Lord will be one of judgment. Many today deny such notions of wrath and judgment when it comes to God and instead emphasize only His mercy and love. We should instead take comfort in knowing we serve a just God – who in His justice will one day right all wrongs, overturn the tables of human “justice” and tyranny and declare His judgment on rebellious humanity. On that day, all who are “in the Messiah” will be spared His wrath. Not only will Christians be spared, we will be vindicated. God will uphold His people with His strong and powerful arm, and yes, our spirits will truly be cheered by His advent.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night. We await the noonday sun of the new creation that God has promised. The sin that clouds our hope and distorts our view of truth will cease to exist. All creation groans in anticipation of God’s healing hand and swift justice – the moment when the clouds of night will dissipate in light of the returning King Jesus.
And death’s dark shadows, put to flight! Jesus did not only defeat sin and evil; He conquered the greatest enemy to God’s good creation – death itself. We await the Final Resurrection – the moment when the dark shadows of death will be put to flight forever and there will be no more pain, crying, sorrow, shame, or death. But God will not only end future death. All past death will be reversed! God will raise up the remains of our earthly bodies, transform them into the likeness of His Son’s resurrected body, and we will inhabit His new world for the rest of eternity.
Rejoice! Thus we can, even two thousand years later, through the tears and pain of suffering in this broken world, proclaim Rejoice! Rejoice! Yes indeed, Emmanuel will come again to thee, O Israel. People of God, rejoice! The long night of exile will not last long. The Morning Star has risen in the sky. The dawn will soon break and night will be over forever. This Christmas season, with one voice, may Christians everywhere join together in song: O Come again, Emmanuel!