Friday, December 23, 2016

#410, in which Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

Full disclosure: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is without reservation my favorite Christmas song. Ordinarily I'd save that for last in the series, but there's a song coming tomorrow that I felt was more appropriate for Christmas Eve.

I think I like this song so much because of the starker, more medieval feel to the tune. While the exact origin of the song is unclear, it sounds very much like a Gregorian chant. The tune was found among a collection of burial chants in the 15th century, so whether or not it's Gregorian, it's definitely a chant rather than something more melodious. It's not flowery or lilting so much as it is solemn, and that's fitting, considering the lyrics. Listen to the first verse:
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
We are not celebrating His birth in this song, not yet, because we are singing from a time in which He has yet to come. If we're singing about "captive" Israel, then this is centuries before His coming, and that helps us understand why the music sounds almost mournful and resigned. This is a people that has been beaten down by decades of oppression and captivity. This isn't a joyous song because there's been precious little to celebrate. And yet, despite everything, a message from the prophets is repeated time and time again that there is something to celebrate:
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
The song continues like this for five verses. Israel calls to its Redeemer from the depths of its sorrow. It calls for aid from tyranny, from gloom, and from misery. And every time the call is made, it is answered with the promise of deliverance. The call is made five times, and the response all five times is essentially, "Trust me, He will come to you. Be patient."

The message of Christmas is one of hope because He has come, and it was a message of hope because he was going to come. It's just that sometimes it's difficult to see that hope when it isn't right in front of our faces. Faith is difficult, but fortunately for us, we are given frequent reminders and gifts that remind us why we have that faith. The message is repeated over and over so it's never too far from our minds. It's a message of redemption, of ransom, and of deliverance, and the fact that we hear it so often makes it one of mercy, too.

Previously in this series

Still, Still, Still

The Friendly Beasts

What Child is This?

Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Coventry Carol

The Holly and the Ivy

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Wexford Carol

I Saw Three Ships

We Three Kings

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

In the Bleak Midwinter

Little Drummer Boy

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