What sets Advent and Christmas apart from every other time of the year? The music! If you listen to KOOL 108 you’ve been listening to Christmas music since the beginning of November. We sing about silver bells, reindeer, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Even better, we sing favorite hymns and carols that focus our attention on the real reason for our celebration—the baby Jesus. Radio stations even play them for us to sing along. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” “Hark, the herald angels sing, glory to the new-born king!” “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy, would save our sons and daughters?”
The hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” takes us back over 1,200 years to life in a monastery. On each of the seven days before Christmas Eve, monks would sing one of the “O antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve. We sang 4 of those “O antiphons” in our hymn, My Soul in Stillness Waits. This song is ancient. Is it still important for our lives as followers of Jesus? Yes!
Let’s explore this hymn based on four of these “O Antiphons” and see why it is still a beautiful song for us to sing in praise of our new-born King!
First let’s look at the original text of the first “O” in Latin. O Emmánuél, Rex et légifer noster, expéctátio Géntium, et Salvâtor eârum: veni ad salvandum nos, Dómine, Deus noster.
Here’s what it means in English! O Emmanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the Desire of Nations, and their Savior: Come to save us, O Lord, our God.
We sang: Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel That mourns in lonely exile here Until the Son of God appear.
1. Where did this special name, “Emmanuel,” come from?
Did you catch the answer to this question in Pastor Gast’s sermon on Sunday? King Ahaz was afraid of losing his kingdom to his rivals in the north. The prophet Isaiah came to him with a message from the LORD. The LORD promised he would win the battle against his rivals. The LORD told him to ask for a sign, a miracle, anything, to reassure him that he would not lose his kingdom. Ahaz stubbornly refused to ask, pretending to be humble: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test” (Isaiah 7:12 NIV).
The LORD patiently and graciously gave Ahaz a sign anyway—an impossible sign. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 He would enable a woman who had never been with a man, who had no husband, to have a baby. God himself gave this special name to the child!
2. What does the name, “Emmanuel,” mean?
God’s people knew what the name meant. עִמָּ֥נוּ אֵֽל literally means “with us God.” It took an angel’s announcement to make it clear that God’s promise really had been fulfilled. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” Matthew 1:22–23 Mary would have a baby by the power of the Holy Spirit. His name would be Jesus—Savior—because he will save his people from their sins!
3. What comfort does the name, “Emmanuel,” give us?
Do you like to be alone? Sometimes. Maybe not so much at Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year can also be the loneliest time of the year. Guess what? You and I are not alone. That name, “Emmanuel,” is a constant reminder that God himself became one of us. He walked with us, talked with us, slept like us, died like us. He rose from the dead and proved that his name is real. Jesus really is “God with us.” He can keep his promise: “I am with you always!”
Here’s the second “O.” O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populôrum, super quem continébunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabúntur: veni ad liberándum nos, jam noli tardâre.
Here’s what it means in English! O Root of Jesse, who stands as a banner of the people, at whom Kings will shut their mouths, To whom the nations will pray:Come and deliver us, and do not delay.
We sang: Oh, come, O Root of Jesse, free Your own from Satan’s tyranny; From depths of hell your people save, And bring them vict’ry o’er the grave.
1. Who is Jesse?
In order to figure out who the Root of Jesse is we should answer the question: Who is Jesse? We meet him in 1 Samuel 16:1. “The LORD said to Samuel, ‘How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.’” The prophet Samuel went to Jesse’s home so that he could anoint Jesse’s son David to replace Saul as king. Later, The LORD promised that David’s throne would be established forever, and his descendant would be an eternal King.
2. Why would we sing about the Root of Jesse?
Isaiah must have wondered what the LORD meant when he promised David’s throne would last forever. Isaiah saw what was happening to David’s descendants. Most were unfaithful kings who forgot the LORD’s promises. Isaiah even had to prophesy that David’s throne would be empty after the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem. But then the LORD gave Isaiah this prophecy. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:1,10 NIV).
Just when it looked like David’s line had died out, a shoot would come up. The shoot was also the Root from which Jesse derived life and breath. Only God can do that! The Root of Jesse is King David’s greatest descendant—Jesus, the Messiah! That’s why we sing about the Root of Jesse!
Here’s the third “O.” O Óriens, splendor lucis ætérnæ, et sol justitiæ: veni, et illúmina sédentes in ténebris, et umbra mortis.
Here’s its translation. O Dawn, brilliance of the Eternal Light, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness,and in the shadow of death.
We sang: Oh, come, O Dayspring from on high, And cheer us by your drawing nigh; Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
1. What 3 words did the third “O” use to describe Jesus?
Here’s a hint for the first two in Isaiah 9:2. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV). The writer called him “Dawn” (Dayspring) and “Eternal Light.” Here’s a hint for the third one: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays.” (Malachi 4:2 NIV). The Sun of Righteousness.
2. Why is there so much emphasis on light at Christmas?
Why is there so much emphasis on light at Christmas? It’s not just the lights. Think of the song, “O Holy Night.” “The stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth. Long lay the world in sin and error pining Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”
Yes, it’s dark in December. In less than 2 weeks we’ll endure the shortest—and darkest—day of the year. We light candles. We cover our homes and trees in lights. Do they remind you of Jesus? That’s what the lights are all about. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV). Jesus is the light of dawn that comes just when life seems to be darkest. He is the sun of righteousness breaking through the darkness of all the wrong things and sins we do. The light of his love and peace can never burn out because it shines eternally!
Here’s the last “O.” O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israël, qui áperis, et nemo claudit: claudis, et nemo áperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo cárceris, sedéntem in ténebris, et umbra mortis.
Here’s the translation. O Key of David, and Scepter of the House of Israel, Who opens and no one closes, closes, and no one opens: Come, and free the prisoner from the prison house, The one sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death.
We sang: Oh, come, O 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.
1. What does a key do?
We know the answer to this one. A key either unlocks or locks something.
2. Who carries this key?
Take a look at this verse: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isaiah 22:22 NIV). There’s only one person who can carry that key. It’s that descendant of David—Emmanuel, the root of Jesse, the Light of the World. It’s Jesus!
3. What door can he open?
He can open the door to the house of David. He can sit on the throne. He can rule and reign forever. He can do all of that because he is the Savior of the world. Let’s look at one more verse that guarantees he’s holding the keys to heaven itself!
4. Of what can we be sure of because Jesus is the Key of David?
Take a look at what John said in Revelation: “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Revelation 3:7 NIV). John saw Jesus in heaven. He saw him holding the key. He opens the door and promises that we can walk in. The door is open.
We can be sure that heaven’s door is standing wide open. We don’t have to be afraid of death, or nervous about Jesus’ return at the end of the world. He’s done all the work. He paid the price so we can make the trip to heaven. The door is open for you and me forever!
This isn’t just a Christmassy song. It is one of the Christmas songs that we sing. It will fill us with more than a feeling of the “Christmas spirit.” It will fill us with the true Spirit of Christmas. We are singing to our Savior, Jesus. As these words flow from our hearts, we are worshiping God with us, the Root of Jesse—the King who rules forever, the Dayspring of light and life, and the Key of David who has opened the gates of heaven forever. O Come, O Come, dear Savior Jesus. We can’t wait to see you! Amen.