Original Latin, translated by John Neale (1851), arrangement by Thomas Helmore (1856)
What are you looking forward to this Advent?
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is a popular advent carol, translated from the series of ancient Latin prayers known as the O Antiphons. Advent is the season in the church calendar leading up to Christmas, when Christians not only remember what Christ has already accomplished through his first coming, but also long for his promised return and the full realisation of his kingdom.
Each of the seven verses meditates upon an aspect of Jesus’ ministry – as prophesied by Isaiah – and addresses him by a different title. In the original Latin, the first letters of these titles form an acrostic “ERO CRAS”, which means “Tomorrow, I will come”.
This hymn recognises that the world we live in is a woeful mess, and longs for Jesus to return to make things right. However, the refrain – sung after each verse – calls us to rejoice because He will keep his promise, He will come.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel,
Shall come to thee O Israel!
O Emmanuel – O God With Us
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
In one sense, this verse has already been fulfilled. The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 – that the virgin would bear a son, and he would be called Emmanuel, that is, ‘God with us’ – has already come to pass. By his death and resurrection, the Lord Jesus has ransomed us from our captivity to sin and has made us his people, Israel, no longer exiled from God. However, this verse is sung in the present tense. This reminds us that although Jesus Christ’s salvation work is finished, we do not yet fully experience its benefits – we still struggle with sin, we may at times feel distant from God and we mourn the suffering of this fallen world. We look forward to Jesus’ return to put these things right, that we might experience ‘God with us’ at its fullest.
O Rex Gentium – O King of the nations
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.
We live in a world of strife, division and hostility. Yet we look forward to the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 2:4, concerning the Lord Jesus, the King of Peace: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
O Oriens – O Dayspring
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadow put to flight.
We pray for God’s truth to be known throughout the world, that ignorance and fear would be dispersed, as prophesied in Isaiah 9:2: “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light”. We also pray that people would be transformed, that sin – the dark shadow of death – would be put to flight in our lives.
O Clavis David – O Key of David
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.
The Lord Jesus has already opened the way to our heavenly home – as Isaiah 22:22 prophesied: “I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut”. However, we are not there yet. This is a prayer that Jesus would keep us in the faith and bring us safely home.
O Radix Jesse
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse’s stem,
From every foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory over the grave.
Isaiah 11:1 promises that a king will come from the line of David, son of Jesse. That king will deliver his people from their foes – the ultimate of which is death. Unless the Lord Jesus returns first, every one of us will die. However, we trust him to give us victory over the grave.
O Adonai – O Lord
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the law,
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.
In the words of Isaiah 33:22: “the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our King: he will save us”. This stanza highlights God’s power and rule, demonstrated by the giving of the law at Sinai. It is to the powerful and sovereign God that we look for salvation.
O Sapientia – O Wisdom
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.
This is a prayer for help to live rightly. In Isaiah 11:2, he said of the Lord Jesus: “the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Therefore we look to Jesus for wisdom, understanding and guidance.
During this advent season, help us both to remember all that the Lord Jesus has accomplished for us and to look forward, with joy and with certain hope, to his promised return.
In Jesus’ name,