The other day, a friend asked me to explain the meaning behind the Christmas hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. I have always loved this beautiful song, with its haunting melodies and deep sense of longing. May a look at the meaning behind the first verse of this hymn bless you this Christmas season.
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
The opening lines of this hymn plead for the coming of the Emmanuel, the “God with us.” Scripture’s promise of the Emmanuel is first recorded in Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The prophecy is explained in Matthew 1, as Joseph is informed in a dream that Mary’s child, this Jesus who shall save His people from their sins, shall be the Emmanuel.
But there’s a problem with this prophecy, which states that the child’s name shall be Emmanuel. They named him Jesus, not Emmanuel! Why the discrepancy? If you read the text closely, you will notice that “they shall call his name Emmanuel,” but “he,” meaning Joseph, called his nameJesus. “They,” the people, did not name him “Jesus,” but truly recognized him as “God with us”–the Emmanuel. When we recognize who Jesus really is and why he came, then the song makes perfect sense, as you will read in the refrain.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.