John Mason Neale, in 1850, translated an ancient advent song (in Latin, "Veni Immanuel") into English to give us "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." Although he took it from a French Franciscan nun's processional, used in Lisbon, Portugal--it probably dates back to the 8th century as a chant. I still hear the haunting echo of it's ancient roots every time I sing it.
The song throbs with the messianic expectations found in Old Testament prophetic passages. A dark and lost world yearns for the hope of the coming deliverer.
The inspiration for the first verse is Isaiah 7:14, the sign of the son born to a virgin, to be called "Immanuel" which means literally "God is with us." Of course, in Matthew 1:23 we are told that the birth of Jesus is the direct fulfillment of this prophecy.
The second verse refers to the "rod of Jesse" which is the shoot or branch that will grow from Jesse's tribe, mentioned in Isaiah 11:1. The promised Messiah will come from David's house to reign over God's kingdom.
The third verse refers to the "dayspring," which is also part of Zechariah's prophecy in Luke 1:78. The Messiah's coming will be like the rising of the sun of righteousness prophesied in Malachi 4:2. The light of His coming will dispel all darkness and burn away all iniquity.
The fourth verse calls the Messiah, "the Key of David," a reference to Isa. 22:22, "what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open." The Messiah will open the gates into God's eternal kingdom.
The final verse directly refers to Jesus as "Adonai" but in most modern versions "Wisdon from on High." The verse indicates that Jesus was the Lawgiver on Sinai. Revealing Him to be God Himself incarnate.
What a blessing that this wonderful Advent chant has been preserved for us to sing the ancient, wonderful and deep truths about the Messiah, whose incarnation we are preparing to celebrate in a few short weeks. Remember to meditate on him as you sing it:
"O come, O come Emmanuel; and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears.
"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 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 heavenly home; make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
"O come, O come, Adonai [or-thou Wisdom from on high]; who in thy glorious majesty, from Sinai's mountain clothes in awe, gave thy folk the elder law."