O Come O Come Emmanuel: A Christmas Burial

The Scripture

14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.[a]
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall call his name Immanuel”
Isaiah 7.14 & Matthew 1.23(ESV)

The History

A somber song for a special time.

The origins of O Come O Come Emmanuel are under some debate, but we do know that it was first published in Cologne in 1710 for a German worship hymnal. The text was expanded and altered numerous times since it was originally penned.

The lyrics have been associated with many tunes throughout history, but the modern English traditions most commonly use Veni Emmanuel, a tune found on a manuscript holed away in the National Library of France which contains a number of burial processionals.

Curious. How might such deep lyrics set to the tune of a death chant possibly have become one of the most beloved Carols of Christmas celebration?

The Music

The passion in this song comes from its contrast. The recitation of each verse finds us in need of help, calling, "Oh Come! Oh Come!" to Him who might help us. In this song we call Him, "Emmanuel, ...Rod of Jesse, ...Dayspring, ...Key of David," and "...Adonai". The O Antiphons, as these names are called, have been used repeatedly in Christian traditions to call to mind the God that Scripture reveals Himself to be.

The contrast is most stark when from tones of despair and depression the congregation arrives in sheer joy declaring, "Rejoice! Rejoice!" He has come! Our Savior has come! The only One capable has indeed arrived.

As the song proceeds, we are conditioned through its course. Each verse reminding us of our eminent demise, but every repeat of the chorus confidently reclaiming our true life in Christ. From despair to hope, depression to elation, and consequence to redemption and salvation as we stand united in our eternal Hope.

Consider this chorus:

Rejoice rejoice Emmanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

With this joy and celebration both Jews and Gentiles can sing with abandon of the gift of Christ, our Hope.

The Challenge

As you worship through this song of traditional Advent, remember who you once were. Know that the Christ has come and accept His Gift to us. Recognize that His very Spirit is inside of you, and Rejoice, Rejoice from the bottoms of your pits to the very heights of the Heavens that Emmanuel, God with us has come. Our Savior is near and the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Additional renditions

Adam Schnaare

Stratford, WI