Best Carols: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

A third magnificent carol is O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Its moving tune has been found in a sixteenth-century French manuscript and its words may be 12th or even 10th century, translated from Latin plainchant. Unusually for a pre-reformation hymn, it avoids Mariolatry; its words are wonderfully biblical and drenched in Old Testament allusion. Christ is the Rod of Jesse, the Key of David, Isaiah’s Emmanuel, with clever linkage to the giving of the Mosaic law at Sinai. For a historical period known for its anti-Semitism in Europe, Messiah’s Jewish origins are not dodged but celebrated.

Furthermore, verse two revels in the theology of salvation, unashamedly talking of Satan, death and hell. The devil is the tyrant under whom we have served; death’s dark shadows and the depths of hell are vanquished on account of our Messiah’s coming.

 

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 Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan's tyranny;

From depths of hell Thy people save,

And give them victory o'er the grave.

 

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,

And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

And death's dark shadows put to flight.

 

O come, Thou 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.

 

O come, Adonai, Lord of might,

Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,

In ancient times didst give the law

In cloud and majesty and awe.