Veni, Veni, Emmanuel

by Chris Canniff


The season of Advent is ever increasingly overlooked, as the mad dash to the mall replaces this time meant for prayerful and joyful expectance of Christ’s coming. We should all perhaps try to extract ourselves from this frenzied culture and reflect upon what it means that God assumed human flesh. The marvelous festival of incarnation that is Christmas demands our attentive preparation, for the glory of this act of divine love is so beyond our comprehension that our liturgical calendar exhorts us to spend these four weeks in prayer over this great mystery.

Part of the rushed Christmas culture in broader society is the round-the-clock playing of Christmas songs on radio stations, beginning while your Thanksgiving turkey is probably still blissfully gobbling on a farm some place, unaware that he will one day be on your dinner table. Trust me, I love Christmas music, but it begins being played far too early. Music holds such strong sway over people’s emotions; the sooner they start playing it, the sooner people will feel the “spirit” of the season, and the sooner they will head to the stores.


Despite this problem, there is a particular piece of music that might actually be one of our best methods of stepping outside the fervor of our shopping days (and exam studying) that we might better prepare our hearts in this Advent season.


Christmas songs such as “O Holy Night,” “The First Noel,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” are all quite beautiful, but they are, properly speaking, Christmas songs. What we need at this time is an Advent song.


The familiar hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” sings of the coming of “God with us.” The words of this hymn are taken from the antiphons of Vespers in the days leading up to Christmas. These texts originated some time in the ninth century, but the hymn we know today only came together in the 18th century when a musician set the words to a fifteenth-century tune.


Christ is beckoned at the start of each verse by such names as Emmanuel, Wisdom, Lord, Rod of Jesse, Key of David, Rising Sun, and King of the Nations. Each appellation is rife with meaning, rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, all of which portended the coming of an anointed redeemer. The prophecies have been spoken, and He is to come. But He is not here yet.


In a sense, although God came to earth in human flesh 2,000 years ago, we live in a state of expectation similar to that of the ancient Jews. The difference for us is that we live in a time of the “already, but not yet.” Christ has already come to earth, but His Kingdom has not yet come. As we prepare ourselves for Christmas, we might remind ourselves of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, in which he wrote that, as Christians, “we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”


He is Emmanuel, who frees us captives. He is Wisdom, who orders all things. He is the Lord, who gave us the Law. He is the Rod of Jesse, who conquers all foes. He is the Key of David, who opens to men their heavenly home. He is the Rising Sun, who dispels the darkness. He is the King of the Nations, who binds together into one the hearts of all men in peace.


He has come, and He is to come again. May we always keep ourselves prepared for His coming, both in this Advent season and beyond.


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