O Come, O Come Emmanuel

(by Jordan Bromhead)

This post is part of a series looking a Christmas carols and worship. Read the introductory post here.

First known as Veni Veni Emmanuel, the story of this hymn spans about 1200 years and travels from a monastery somewhere in Europe, to French nuns in Portugal and then onto Africa before becoming a globally recognised Christmas carol. No one knows who first penned this Christmas advent hymn but it is thought to have come from a Latin monk sometime around 800AD.  

As the rich lyrics encouraged those living in the Dark Ages, its popularity grew and spread, though it wasn’t until the 15th century when a French Franciscan covenant of nuns ministering in Portugal added the tune, previously sung with another song, to the lyrics that we now sing today. As with the change in tune it is thought that this hymn evolved and was added to over its well-travelled life before it was picked up by John Neale as he was ministering in the Madeira Islands near Africa where he translated it from Latin to English in 1844.

What it’s about...

It is a rich and beautiful montage of different aspects of God’s character, taking words and testimony straight from the Israelites in the Old Testament. In a time when many people didn’t have access to the word of God, hymns were a way to share the message of hope far and wide. This hymn was purposed to sing leading into Christmas and to remember Emmanuel - God with us.

Source: The Nativity Story (film 2006)

Source: The Nativity Story (film 2006)

When I sing it...

Like a moth to a flame, I’m always attracted to songs with melodic interest and rich lyrics and this hauntingly beautiful song is no exception. I love the melancholic melody opening the stanzas and the contrasting triumphant end of rejoicing.  I love how it makes you feel and then think. I love that you can read the lyrics over and over and something else about His character will become more apparent.

It’s typically not the carol on the ‘must have’ list to be played at Carols by Candlelight and some would even argue that hymn is a better descriptor than carol, but when you think about its purpose as one of the stepping stones during advent on the way to Christmas, it fits the reason for a carol perfectly: to remember and/or to celebrate. It is the epitome of both and I love that.


O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.