O come, O come, Emmanuel

Happy 4th and last Sunday of Advent!

Today’s hymn has been a favourite of mine for about a decade. I love the plaintive melody, and now that I know more about the words, I appreciate it even more. Have a listen:


If you’re feeling adventurous, here it is in Latin, with subtitles of a sort (you only need to watch the first 3.5 minutes, as the rest is a repetition).

The original text for the hymn comes from an 8th century Latin poem comprising seven stanzas. In the course of time and translation, some stanzas have been dropped and different English renderings of the Latin phrases adopted. If you’re thus inclined, you may compare 30 different hymnals. Here’s an eight-stanza version I found:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Refrain
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 Day-spring, 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

[Source]

The first line of each verse refers to a messianic title found in the Old Testament:

Title Reference
Emmanuel Isaiah 7:14
Wisdom Isaiah 28:29
Rod (branch) of Jesse Isaiah 11:1
Day-spring (morning star) Numbers 24:17
Key of David Isaiah 22:22
Lord of might Exodus 19:16
Root of Jesse Isaiah 11:0
Desire of nations Haggai 2:7

In the medieval church, they’d sing one stanza a day during each of the seven days before Christmas. Which means this post is just in time!

Sources, and for more info:

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