Wonder Boi Writes

25 songs of Christmas: Dec 3 – Oh Come Emmanuel

I generally save today’s song for later in the month because it’s one of my favorites. I’m not sure why. Despite its heart-aching beauty, it’s not peppy or happy. Even the refrain of “Rejoice, rejoice” sounds plaintive more than anything else. I’ve seen it called the most solemn of all Christmas songs, and it’s hard to disagree. The root of its lyrics may also make it one of the oldest ones still widely known (though the tune is from the 15th century). Maybe it’s the age or the language or its Old Testament allusions, but the song makes me think of the people of Israel at the time of Christ’s birth. I can almost feel their desolation. The narrator pleads with God to ransom captive Israel.

Can you imagine being held captive in your own country? To be subject to an authority you didn’t elect and that had no limitation on the violence it could inflict? To see the multiple systems of government working separately or in tandem to break the backs of their people, to cut them off from their families and intuitions, to uproot them from their homes, to toil and starve so that the rich and powerful could live lavishly. This was supposed to their second Eden. The land rumored to flow with milk and honey. A land supposedly full of the promise of their ancestors, but the promise of the nation shatters as children are killed in the streets.

Actually, maybe that description is something a lot of people can imagine pretty well right now. And still in the midst of all that desperation, death and mourning, the singer finds reason to rejoice.

Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel. Note the lyrics don’t say that Emmanuel has come. They say that Emmanuel shall come. Emmanuel means God with us. The line literally means “God with us” shall come to thee.

It’s not a given. It’s not past tense. It’s not limited or conditional. God with us is to be sought and to be found. To ask for and to have answered. The song is a prayer and a response. It’s a reminder to call out to God in this time in the place and know that God shall come. God will be with us. God has come to Earth before. God has saved the world before. God shall come and be with us once more.

Go ahead and listen. Sing the song, say the payer no matter where you are in the world, in your life, in your spiritual journey. Surely this is a prayer even we, a divided people, can all agree on.

Come thou key of David come, and open wide our heavenly home. Make safe the way that leads to thee, and close the path to misery.

Come desire of nations binds, all peoples in one heart and mind. Bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thy self our king of peace.

Lift those words up in voice and heart, and rejoice in the knowledge that Emmanuel shall come to you.


December 3, 2014 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Beautiful sentiments, Rachel. This was much needed today.

    Comment by Nikki B | December 3, 2014 | Reply

  2. I always look forward to your 25 days, Rachel, but I have to say you are really outdoing yourself this year. Truly inspired. This is like my advent calendar.

    Comment by J. E. Knowles | December 4, 2014 | Reply

  3. This has always been my favorite, too. The music, even though it comes from the 1500s (which I didn’t realize before,) has an ancient plain song feel to it. (Maybe Id better go look up “plain song,” though.)

    Comment by sacchigreen | December 4, 2014 | Reply

  4. Thank you.

    Comment by onamarae | December 7, 2014 | Reply

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