Christmas is almost upon us. When shopping for Christmas gifts, or ingredients for Christmas baking, Christians cannot help but be bombarded with the largely secularistic Christmas music that pervades our culture. Yet there is a wonderful tradition of Christmas hymnology, much of which is rich in theological meaning.
One of those hymns comes from the 12th century, entitled "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," and draws upon several descriptions of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In stanza 1, Christ is "Emmanuel," which is taken from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Emmanuel, means "God with us" and signifies that this baby Jesus is God come in the flesh. This is the glorious incarnation of the Son of God/God the Son. For centuries, God promised a coming Messiah, but Israel mourned in lowly exile, waiting for this Messiah to come. Today, it has been two thousand years since Christ's ascension and promise to return. We wait in "exile" on this earth, awaiting our returning Messiah.
Stanza 2 calls Christ "the Rod of Jesse," which is a reference to Isaiah 11:1, that a Rod or Shoot would come from Jesse, and a Branch would grow from his roots. Jesse was the father of King David, but this prophesy does not refer to David, for he had long since died at the time of Isaiah's writing. There is a veiled reference to the Davidic Covenant from 2 Samuel 7, which promises David a king who would reign on his throne forever. This Shoot, or Rod would come and overthrow the tyranical rule of Satan. The genealogies of Jesus in both Matthew 1 (Joseph's lineage) and Luke 3 (Mary's lineage) link Jesus to the Davidic line and his right to the throne. Christ was born the King of the Jews, he died with the statement of his being the King of the Jews written over his head, and he will return as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19) to set up his eternal kingdom.
The third stanza refers to Christ as the "Dayspring" which comes from the words of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, in Luke 1:78. Christ is the Dayspring, or the Sunrise (depending on your translation), who will dispel the darkness and provide peace. Jesus is the first light of the new day, the morning light, that will disperse the gloomy clouds of the night of sin and put to flight the dark shadows of sin and death. Jesus began that ministry in his first advent, but will fully and finally do so in his second.
The final stanza brings us to Revelation 3:7, where Christ is referred to as having the Keys of David. The poet here calls Christ himself the Key of David, who has the authority to open the door of salvation to all who trust in Him, thus closing the path of misery forever. Christ's authority is the key idea here; authority in salvation. Salvation is exclusively through and in Jesus Christ. No man can enter the gates of heaven and thus gain audience with the Father except through Christ, the Key.
This is a wonderful hymn that depicts both the first Advent of Christ, but also looks ahead to the second Advent. May we rejoice in Christ today.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lowly exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Refrain: Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyrany;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them vict'ry o'er the grave.
O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
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 heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
For a printable download of this hymn, visit here.