O Come O Come Emmanuel may be one of the most ancient hymns that we sing. Probably written in the 8th Century by monks, the Latin text was discovered by an English pastor named John Mason Neale in the 19th Century. He translated it into English and introduced it to the English speaking world.
The hymn is jam-packed with biblical imagery about the long awaited Messiah. Each of the seven verses addresses Jesus by a different name, from “Emmanuel” to “Root of Jesse” to “Key of David.” And in each of the verses we are crying out for Jesus to come. As we talked about last week, this along with other Advent hymns takes the story of the ancient Israelite people and makes it our own. As they waited long for the Messiah to come and rescue them from exile, sin and darkness, so we still wait for Jesus to come and rescue us from exile, sin and darkness. Jesus has come, but we are still not home. Jesus has come, but we are still tormented by the presence of evil in our lives and world.
This coming of Jesus is both good news and bad news. It is good news because our world is broken beyond repair and we need God to fix it. He alone can. But it is bad news because the sin and evil that holds our world captive is not just “out there,” but is also “in here” in the places of our own hearts. Christians do not divide the world up into good people and bad people. As the text from Isaiah reminds us, even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags before God. Even our best acts are tainted with self-righteousness, vanity, pride and self-centeredness. The coming of Jesus to judge the world is scary news for all of us, because God sees into the deepest and most secret places of the heart. The darkness that envelopes the world also envelopes us.
Yet the gospel is the good news that the Judge who is coming in the future already came in the past to live and die for us. He came to pre-empt the judgment that awaited for us by going to the cross to suffer judgment for the sin of humanity. He endured hell to bring us into heaven. He was enveloped in darkness so that we can be enveloped in light. The invitation of the gospel is to pre-empt judgment day by trusting in Jesus, God with us, and his atoning death for us. We can face the second advent of Jesus by trusting in what he did for us in his first advent. We therefore can now live fully awake, waiting for him to come without fear. "For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).
In preparation for worship, read slowly through the hymn and try to identify all the different names of Jesus. Invite the Spirit to freshly reveal the person of Jesus to you in all his fullness.
Our weekly worship guide can be found here.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”(which means “God with us”).
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
4 Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
6 All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
7 No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.
8 Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
9 Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.
10 Your sacred cities have become a wasteland;
even Zion is a wasteland, Jerusalem a desolation.
11 Our holy and glorious temple, where our ancestors praised you,
has been burned with fire,
and all that we treasured lies in ruins.
12 After all this, Lord, will you hold yourself back?
Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?