Skip to main content

Reading thy Hymns Bonus: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

December 24th, 2010 | 8 min read

By Kevin White

Today’s selection is possibly the oldest Christmas carol that is still in use. It is a Victorian translation (by John M. Neale, 1851) of a 12th-century Latin carol, which was in turn adapted from a set of 8th century monastic antiphons.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a guided tour of traditional Christian interpretations of Old Testament prophecy. Each stanza calls up a major theme of Messianic prophecy, drawing upon at least one major verse that Christians have seen as a reference to Christ. I know that this interpretive tradition raises many major, often heated, questions and objections. Let’s bracket those for the sake of this post, so as to focus on unpacking what this hymn is trying to tell us.

Three common notes for all the verses. First, each one is a prayer to Jesus under a variety of prophetic names. The refrain is the answer to the prayer: Rejoice, Emmanuel will surely come!

Login to read more

Sign in or create a free account to access Subscriber-only content. 

Sign in


Kevin White