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#15: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

adoration-of-the-shepherds-gerard-van-honthorst-1590-1656The words to “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” are a translation of the Catholic Latin text “Veni, veni, Emmanuel” by John Mason Neale in the mid-19th century. Their origins are very old indeed, and may date as far back as the 12th century. They were of such importance in medieval days that in monasteries a separate stanza, to be sung from December 16 through December 23, was assigned to each of the most pious monks. In the 1800s, a musical setting that would accommodate the stanzas and the refrain “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel” was fashioned out of some plainsong sequences. (There was no refrain in the original Latin.) And, since plainsong has no measures and no specified rhythmic scheme, the quality of this hymn is always flowing and free.

The text is based on the biblical prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 that states that God will give Israel a sign that will be called Immanuel (literally, “God with us”). Matthew 1:23 states fulfillment of this prophecy in the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

Lyrics

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 Wisdom from on high,
Who orderest all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

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 over 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, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

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

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s tree,
An ensign of Thy people be;
Before Thee rulers silent fall;
All peoples on Thy mercy call.

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

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.

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

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