is the Fourth and Final Sunday of Advent and time to share
the most famous of all Advent hymns, O Come, O Come
Emmanuel which also has some of the oldest roots. As a boy it always perplexed me—who
the hell was this Emmanuel, what did he have to do with Christmas, and
how did Israel become involved?
turns out that Emmanuel—from Hebrew meaning “God is With Us” is
mentioned almost in passing in the Old Testament book of Book of
Isaiah in connection with prophecies about a war between the Kingdom
of Judea and an Assyrian Empire with it’s vasal the Kingdom
of Israel in 735-734 BCE. One
verse said, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall
conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The name, is mentioned a second time that the
lands of the “two kings you dread” will be laid waste before the
child is old enough to “reject the wrong and choose the right.” Neither Isaiah nor Jewish scholars connected
these prophecies to those predicting the coming of a Messiah.
early Christians did, at least the unknown author the Gospel
of Matthew did when and angel appeared to Joseph in a dream
who was about to end his engagement to teenage Mary because
she was carrying the child of another and told him the child’s divine
origin was the fulfillment of Scripture. “Now all this was done, that it might be
fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin
shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name
Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
by these slender threads hung the notion that Emmanuel was
another name for Jesus who was also the Messiah, Savior of Humankind,
and Son of God.
of the song we know was originally written in Latin, a paraphrase
of the O antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons
attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days
before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic
life in the 8th or 9th Century. Seven days before Christmas
Eve monks would sing the O antiphons in anticipation of Christmas
Eve when the eighth antiphon, O Virgo virginum (O Virgin of
Virgins) would be sung before and after Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat
and the music of O come, O come, Emmanuel developed separately.
A Latin text was first documented in Germany in 1710, but the tune
most familiar in the English-speaking world had its origins
in 15th Century France. The 1851 translation
by John Mason Neale from Hymns Ancient and Modern is the
most prominent by far in the English-speaking world, but other English
translations also exist. Anywhere
from four to eight verses are attached to the melody. The hymn text was
embraced both a Romantic interest in poetic beauty and medieval
exoticism and a concern for matching hymns to liturgical seasons and
functions rooted in the Oxford Movement in the Church of England. Despite this pedigree a seven verse
version was not included in the official hymnal of the Episcopal
Church in the United States. Catholics,
Lutherans, and many other Protestant denominations include
versions and variants in their hymnals.
Enya's album And Winteer Came includes O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
hymn is now a choral set piece at many Advent services and Christmas
concerts. But today we are featuring
a lovely solo version by Irish New Age singer Enya.