When it comes to Christmas songs, few stand out with as much history or Biblical connotation as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Originally a 1,200-year-old Latin hymn, this song is rich with poetry, beauty, and prayerful expectation of the coming Messiah.
I recently came across one of the most beautiful renditions of this song, and it’s not by any grand chorus or orchestra – although there are plenty of those. It’s a simple, seemingly impromptu video of songwriter Malinda Kathleen Reese who, during a road trip with her parents, found herself nestled in the hills and humble village of Montefrío, Spain. While admiring the view, a large concrete structure caught their eye: a modest but charming Pantheon-style church called Iglesia de la Encarnación. The beautiful interior was encircled by ornate prayer stations, a high booming dome overhead, and one truly exceptional feature; its acoustics.
What was, for them, a short pit stop on their journey through Montefrío, became the focal point of a video that would later garner 29 MILLION views (and maybe saved some souls in the process). Not intending to accomplish such a feat during their little layover in the church, things changed when her mother casually shut the case for her sunglasses... and their jaws dropped. The single CLOP! of the case reverberated within those walls for six... whole... seconds! For Malinda, there was only one thing to do in a moment and place like that.
What followed was what can only be described (by me and millions of other commenters) as a heavenly, almost angelic, psalm to the Lord. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
Granted it’s only one person singing just a snippet of this incredible piece, but I think it gives newfound wonder to what Heaven must sound like. But amidst the beauty of the music itself, it's the words therein that really showcase how profound this song really is. Structured across seven verses and one refrain, we get seven names for our Lord, seven humbles petitions, and one earnest request of the Savior. Come.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
In the first verse, God’s people groan in exile while awaiting the coming Messiah. The titular “Emmanuel,” in Koine Greek, translates to “God (El) with us.” And personally, I cannot find anything more descriptive of God made manifest in the flesh than that! Not to mention, I find there is something more eternal to the Word; that He will always be with us. To close the verse, we get the first of 7 titles for Jesus in this song, the one most boldly proclaimed in the Book of John: “Son of God.” More specifically, the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.
But lo, God’s promise is true. A Savior will come. Rejoicing is in order! How incredible it is that God gave us this hope. Good tidings of peace and salvation to those who are waiting!
O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. (Refrain)
O come, O come, great Lord of Might,
who to your tribes on Sinai's height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. (Refrain)
The next two verses call Christ “Wisdom” and “great Lord of Might.” Jesus is called “the Wisdom of God” most prominently in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. As alluded to in the verse, these books instruct us in knowledge of the Way. In the Book of Obadiah, as well as others, “the Mighty Savior” is implied. He who would return the children of Israel from exile. In fact, Jesus can be found in every book of the Bible.
O come, O Branch of Jesse's stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o'er the grave. (Refrain)
O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe for us the heavenward road
and bar the way to death's abode. (Refrain)
Verses four and five call Christ the “Branch of Jesse’s stem” and “O Key of David” references from Isaiah, Revelation, and elsewhere. As the prophecies foretold, Jesus did indeed descend from the line of Jesse and indeed He that openeth, no man shutteth... the heavenward road, as the author would describe.
O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. (Refrain)
O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. (Refrain)
The last two verses are duly in position to tie up this incredible anthem. In Revelation 21, the Lamb of God gives light to those redeemed from darkness as the true “King of Nations” ruling the New Jerusalem. Then in Revelation 22, Jesus calls Himself the “Bright and Morning Star,” which testifies that He is indeed coming soon and is bringing his recompense with Him! A place with no tears, mourning, pain, or death. A place where sad divisions cease and the Body of Christ reconciles!
So I implore you: if you ever find yourself in a remote pantheon-style church in the middle of nowhere Spain, try out your vocals. And I also implore you: if you find yourself singing this song this season, remember that its prayer has been answered... two thousand years ago, one Christmas morning. Fortunately for us all, it will be answered again.
He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Merry Christmas all!