O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Full Text

1 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.

2 O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. [Refrain]

3 O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. [Refrain]

4 O come, thou branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto thine own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. [Refrain]

5 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home.
Make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. [Refrain]

6 O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight. [Refrain]

7 O come, desire of nations, bind
all peoples in one heart and mind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of peace. [Refrain]

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

This ancient Advent hymn may date back to a community of fifth-century Jewish Christians and perhaps was part of their Hanukkah festival. The text does include many elements of the Hanukkah celebration-remembrance of wilderness wandering, darkness and death, but also celebration of light (the use of candles) and, above all, wonderment about the hope for Christ's return ("O").

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

In this song, it becomes clear that the one waited for is “Emmanuel—God with us.” The confessions of the church are very eager to identify that Emmanuel as the only Son of God “according to his divine nature” (Belgic Confession, Article 10). Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 11-13, Questions and Answers 29-34 put great effort into explaining why he is called Jesus, Christ, and God’s only begotten Son.


O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Call to Worship

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
As we enter this season of Advent,
may the love of God the Father, and the grace of Jesus the Son,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all.
[Reformed Worship 57:4]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in;
be born in us today.
[“O Little Town of Bethlehem” Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), PD ]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Romans 15:12-13, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

Covenant God,
you heard your people yearning for a Savior.
Thank you for sending your Son so long ago.
We now rehearse your promise
that Christ will come again,
that death and suffering will end
and every tear will be wiped away.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
As you fulfilled Israel’s hopes long ago,
so we long for all these promises to be fulfilled. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Make us to know your ways, O Lord;
teach us your paths.
Lead us in your truth, and teach us,
for you are the God of our salvation;
for you we wait all day long. Amen.
—from Psalm 25:4-5, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

A prayer especially mindful of children
Immanuel, as we wait for your return,
help us see your glory and love
through the reading and preaching of your Word.
We pray in your name. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

O Immanuel,
child of promise and sign of hope,
you come from a distance far beyond our reach,
yet are closer to us than we are to ourselves:
remain with us in our own days of expectation,
that we may give birth to what is just, true, beautiful, and good—
through the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
abides with us, one God now and forever. Amen.
O Wisdom,
your words uttered in the beginning
generated a world of beauty and goodness,
giving purpose and value to each creature;
instruct us in the way of prudence,
that we may nurture the world with justice and joy.
Help us to resist evil and to obey you,
so that we may walk in your ways and
the beauty of your creation may flourish—
through the one whom we know as the Wisdom of the ages,
even Christ, our Lord. Amen.
O Lord of might,
master of the universe and ruler of the house of Israel,
your mighty acts have rescued remnants of your people
from the midst of slavery, exile, war, and holocaust:
raise your scepter over us, that your saving rule
may be extended to all people in all places—
for the sake of him who we know as Lord of all,
even Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
O Root of Jesse,
you reach deep down into the darkness of the earth
and stir the world’s longings for deliverance and hope:
raise up within our own lives
a spirit of courage and strength, of wisdom and insight,
that we may do your work for the coming of your kingdom—
through the merits of the one we know as the beginning of the ages,
even Christ, our Lord. Amen.
O Key of David and throne of glory,
you open the way to the future and no one closes;
you close the way to the past and no one opens.
Release us and all your people from the oppressions of the past,
that we may face the future with boldness and purpose—
through the merits of the Son of David, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
O Rising Dawn,
you shine with warm brightness and clean freshness,
chasing the fearsome shadows of the night away:
enlighten the lives of your people with visions of shalom
until you bring all things into the harmony of your kingdom—
for the sake of him we call the light of the world, Christ, our Lord. Amen.
[Reformed Worship 21:37]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

O Wisdom,
Divine Speech,
Eloquent Word of God,
as you spoke to call forth
the creation of this cosmos,
speak again:
Show us the way of life through your coming.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Adonai,
Ruler and Sovereign of your covenant people, Israel,
as you appeared to Moses in the burning bush
and gave him your law at Sinai,
come to us in all your saving power.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Root of Jesse,
as you rise as a sign for all the peoples,
and call forth the worship of all the nations,
come quickly to deliver us from sin and death.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Key of David,
scepter over the house of Israel, your covenant people,
you open our hearts, our lives, our futures.
Set free all who are imprisoned,
all those who live in the valley of the shadow of death.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Radiant Dawn,
Sun of righteousness, so full of splendor:
shine your radiance on all
who live in the shadows,
groping for life and light.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Ruler of all nations,
Lord of all time and space,
you hold humanity together.
As you lovingly formed us from the dust of the earth,
lovingly reform, save, and renew us, we pray.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
O Immanuel,
our Lord and lawgiver,
our hope and desire,
come mightily to save us;
our trust is in you.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.
[After a brief silence, the leader concludes:]
Promise-keeping God,
we rejoice in your faithfulness.
Our hearts overflow with hope
as we express our longing for the advent of our Lord.
Prepare us to receive, honor, and follow him,
our Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

This prayer of corporate lament and intercession uses short phrases of text, silence, and portions
of the familiar Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” Prayer leaders should
rewrite the intercessions to express the particular needs and concerns of a local congregation.
The prayer concludes with words of assurance from Isaiah 11, followed by the refrain
“Rejoice! Rejoice!” which is purposefully held back until the end of the prayer.
Lord God,
we long for the coming of your kingdom in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We lament before you the signs
that your kingdom has not come in fullness.
We lament signs of brokenness in the community of nations.
We lament that Christians are persecuted
because they profess the name of Jesus.
[All sing]
“O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease,
and be yourself our King of peace.”
We lament the broken relationships
that bring such pain to many we know.
We lament that many of our friends and coworkers
have chosen to ignore or disown the gospel of Christ.
[All sing]
“O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.”
We lament racism that plagues our community.
We lament the physical and emotional abuse
of children and spouses in our homes.
[All sing]
“O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.”
[Reading from Isaiah 11:1-9]
With resolute hope, despite our sadness,
we sing with the angels and all the people of God:
[All sing]
“Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel.”
[Reformed Worship 45:23]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Tune Information

e minor
Meter refrain 8.8


Musical Suggestion

"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is a wonderful guide to the season of Advent.
A congregation can focus on this hymn during the month of Advent in a number of ways:
  • Use the hymn as a sermon: alternate readings from Scripture that correspond to each stanza with the singing of that stanza.
  • Sing one stanza each week of Advent after the Salutation and before the Prayer of Confession.
  • Have the choir sing the refrain as an introduction to the stanza.
  • Have handbells ring randomly during the singing of the hymn. As with most plainsong melodies, this creates an appropriate ethereal effect. Have the bells begin, wait a moment, line the melody out in a soft stop on the organ, and then have the congregation join in. Organists will want to look at Wilbur Held's setting of veni immanuel for a prelude or offertory, which appears in "A Nativity Suite" published by Concordia (97-4461). This setting is moderately easy and has a nice contrast of reeds playing "Rejoice! Rejoice!" and flutes playing the melody. It ends softly with the last part of the refrain reminding us of the opening phrase.
There is no more popular Advent hymn than "O Come, O Come, Immanuel," and it is one of the few hymns that keeps this season from being entirely eclipsed by Christmas on the radio. We need this hymn to help us anticipate the coming celebration of Christ's birth.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 21)
— David C. Schaap

The combination of this quintessential Advent hymn and Ps. 74 can transform our understanding of both the psalm and the hymn. The psalm offers jolting imagery of what we often glibly sing in the hymn: “mourning in exile,” “depths of hell,” and “shadows of night.” The hymn helps us to imagine the pathos with which the psalmist’s community longed for the coming of the Messiah. It also opens us up to the pain that persecuted Christian communities feel today as they desperately cry out for liberation. The congregation or an ensemble can softly hum a drone on the pitches E and B under the reading. The scripture can also be chanted on an unadorned E tone.
— Psalms for All Seasons (http://www.psalmsforallseasons.org)

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Hymn Story/Background

This ancient Advent hymn may date back to a community of fifth-century Jewish Christians and perhaps was part of their Hanukkah festival. In the ninth century the text entered the Roman liturgy for use during Advent.  John Mason Neale first translated this Latin verse into English; in subsequent years other hymnal editors made various changes, so that the current version is the work of many.
In the ninth century the text entered the Roman liturgy for use during Advent. In the week before Christmas the medieval church regularly sang seven "Great 'O' Antiphons" in conjunc­tion with the Magnificat during Vespers. Each of these an­tiphons included an Old Testament name for the coming Messiah. During the twelfth or thirteenth century these words were put in hymn form, in Latin, and the "Rejoice" refrain was added.
Although the Latin phrase in the refrain "nascetur pro te, Israel" has been translated "shall come to you," it really means "shall be born to you." Thus the original Latin hymn celebrated the first coming of the Christ. The translation, however, permits use of the hymn to celebrate both first and second comings.
VENI IMMANUEL was originally music for a Requiem Mass in a fifteenth-century French Franciscan Processional. Thomas Helmore adapted this chant tune and published it in Part II of his The Hymnal Noted (1854).
— Bert Polman

Author Information

John Mason Neale (b. London, England, 1818; d. East Grinstead, Sussex, England, 1866) translated this Latin verse into English and published it in his Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1851). In subsequent years other hymnal editors made various changes, including changing the order of the stanzas. Neale also gave copious scriptural references for the text in his Words of the Hymnal Noted (1855).
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

A graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, England, Thomas Helmore (b. Kidderminster, Worcestershire, England, 1811; d. Westminster, London, England, 1890) was ordained a priest in the Church of England, but his main contribution to the church was in music. He was precentor at St. Mark's College, Chelsea (1842-1877), and master of the choristers in the Chapel Royal for many years. He promoted unaccompanied choral services and played an important part in the revival of plainchant in the Anglican Church. Helmore was involved in various publications of hymns, chants, and carols, including A Manual of Plainsong (1850) and The Hymnal Noted (with John Mason Neale).
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

This ancient advent hymn originated in part from the “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” part of the medieval Roman Catholic Advent liturgy. On each day of the week leading up to Christmas, one responsive verse would be chanted, each including a different Old Testament name for the coming Messiah. When we sing each verse of this hymn, we acknowledge Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophesies. We sing this hymn in an already-but not yet- kingdom of God.  Christ’s first coming gives us reason to rejoice again and again, and yet we know that all is not well with the world. So along with our rejoicing, we plead using the words of this hymn that Christ would come again, to perfectly fulfill the promise that all darkness will be turned to light. The original text created a reverse acrostic: “ero cras,” which means, “I shall be with you tomorrow.” That is the promise we hold to as we sing this beautiful hymn.
— Laura de Jong

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