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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

posted Dec 18, 2010, 7:52 AM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Jul 2, 2015, 2:09 PM ]
It's no surprise this is the most popular Advent hymn, considering it's probably the oldest song we sing. The text is actually a collection of seven Roman Catholic Antiphons from the 9th century known as “The Great O's” for their opening invocation. One antiphon per day is chanted for the last seven days of Advent, and each verse greets the Savior as one of the different biblical prophecies He fulfills. Isaiah 7:14 states God will give Israel a sign called Immanuel (Lit.: God with us) which as we hear in today's Gospel, Matthew 1:23, is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. “Wisdom” is from Ecclesiastes 24:3-9 and Proverbs. “Lord of Might” is Exodus 3:1-6 and Micah 5:2. Isaiah 11 anticipates a shoot shall sprout from the “Rod of Jesse.” “Key of David” refers to Isaiah 22:22. “Thou Dayspring” presents the image of the morning star from Malachi 4:2. “Desire of Nations” stems from Jeremiah 30:7-11 and Isaiah 28:16. 

The melody, Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, originated as a processional in a 15th century community of French Franciscan nuns living in Lisbon, Portugal. 

In the 19th century, Anglican priest John Mason Neale (who co-founded the Sisterhood of St. Margaret) translated these antiphons from Latin into the song we sing today, as well as many other hymns, including Good Christian Men, Rejoice; Creator of the Stars and Night; Good King Wenceslas and Palm Sunday's All Glory, Laud and Honor.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel's universal confirmation of faith can best be seen by the fact that it's since been translated into scores of languages and recorded by artists as diverse as Robert Shaw; The Carpenters; Mannheim Steamroller; Linda Ronstadt; Whitney Houston; Boyz II Men; Hillsong; Bette Midler; Wynonna Judd; Clay Aiken and Enya.  Newer releases are by Richard Page, Daniel Zott and Jessica Simpson.  So as the refrain commands, rejoice that Christ did come, as we wait now with the same urgent expectation for His second advent.