One of my favourite Advent songs is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” This song has a haunting sound to it, probably brought together in the middle ages. With seven verses, this piece called for the Messiah to come to ransom, save, cheer, guide and bring peace to the world. And after each stanza, there is a response of faith; believing that their prayer has been heard and will answer: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!”
As we sing this song, we are offering a prayer similar to the prayer that Israel would have prayed during the exile and throughout their history: that God would send His Messiah to free his people from their oppressors in Babylon or Rome. But for Christians, we pray for that day when we will be released once and for all from the oppression of sin and death. In a similar way, the Old Testament prophets spoke of a day when God would ransom, restore, and forgive Israel from death and captivity and sin.
In a wonderful way, this is what Jesus came to do – to offer his life as a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45). To ransom someone is to pay the price that is required for the person who is in bondage. Death makes the same kind of demand on us. We deserve death, because this is the payment for sin (Rom. 6:23). But the good news of Jesus is that he has paid this ransom for all who repent and believe.
There are many reasons we can hear the lament of this advent song – there is much wrong in the world. The tone is in a minor key. But the good news is that though life is in a minor key, we can sing and rejoice and praise God that he will come to us to deliver us!
If you are experiencing hardship, sorrow, and pain this Advent season, my prayer is that this hymn will lift your burdens, cause your eyes to look to the One who promises to come to carry your burdens and give you joy.
O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lowly exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
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.
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heavn’ly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to Thee, O Israel!
Singing with hope,