Friday, December 18, 2009

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Part 2)

Continuing our consideration of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel-the hymn’s five antiphons or verses include 5 Old Testament references to the coming Messiah. Let’s consider each verse for a moment and their OT reference:

1. O Come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Matthew 1:21-23 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us).

This opening verse of the hymn uses the most meaningful of all titles for the coming Messiah- Emmanuel. It literally means “God With Us”, as Matthew points out and as the origin of the word so clearly means.

The concept of "Emmanuel"- God with us- is so foreign to all other religious constructs, both in the day of Isaiah’s prophecy and in our day now. The idea that God Himself would become man in order to literally be with us is totally unfamiliar, alien, and unknown to us. Concepts of a distant, uncaring God are shattered with Jesus Christ, the second person of the eternal Trinity, agrees to take on flesh and come ransom us from our sins.

In addition to this concept of Emmanuel revealed in the OT and accented by this wonderful hymn, notice the hymn writer’s reference to Emmanuel ransoming captive Israel. Early in the life of the NT church it became clear that the new Israel was the Church- not just a favored ethnic group but people from every tribe and tongue united by faith to Jesus Christ, the Head of the church. When the words of this hymn were first written, the most used version of the bible was the Latin Vulgate. The translator of that version, Jerome, was careful to point out the equality between Israel in the OT with the Church in the NT. Going back just a bit farther, when the Hebrew OT was translated into Greek, the word for Israel was often translated “ekklesia”- the very same word for “Church”. Emmanuel coming to Israel means God coming to His people- His Church.

The hymn uses the OT title Emmanuel ransoming Israel to evoke a picture of a Moses-type figure leading the people from literal captivity. There is a deeper meaning for us, though. Christ has come to ransom us from the penalty and power of our own sin- the real thing we are held captive to! Being slaves of Egypt is nothing compared to being slaves to our sin! We need God Himself to give us an exodus from our sin! Emmanuel comes to ransom us from our state of sin, described skillfully in this hymn and in this first verse as a state of exile. How true it is, we are exiled from God- separated from his presence- by our sin.

2. O come, O come thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height, in ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe

The hymn writer infers by verse 2 that Jesus Christ was somehow involved with the giving of the Law to Israel at Sinai through Moses! Most of us think of God the Father alone meeting Moses on Sinai. The hymn writer suggests the presence of Christ, God the Son, as giving the Law also. Is this a biblical notion?

Exodus 19:16-20 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.

Isaiah 11:1-5 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.

Isaiah 33:22 For the Lord is our judge; the Lord is our lawgiver; the Lord is our king; he will save us.

Have you ever wondered what Christ and the Holy Spirit were doing when God was meeting with Moses at Sinai? While the text in Exodus doesn’t clearly delineate the exact activity of the 2nd and 3rd persons of the Trinity during that historic, monumental time, the whole of Scripture weighs in to say they were present and took part! What a solid hymn that would cause us to ask such questions and consider such a matter! A truly great hymn teaches us and casts our gaze heavenward. Such a notion as Christ the “lawgiver” does exactly this!

3. O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave

The third verse refers to Isaiah 11’s depiction of the Messiah as a distant relative of the family of Jesse. Of course, Jesse is David’s father, and eventually, Christ comes from the line of David. But notice what else these ancient lyrics imply- a particular nature to the redemption Messiah would accomplish:

free thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave

These words, probably originating in the 5th Century, support the doctrine of particular redemption. This makes good sense, since the doctrine is so clearly taught in Scripture. Free us from Satan and the penalty of sin that is ours! Messiah, free us! Your people!

4. O Come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight

The fourth verse refers to Christ in the way the last prophet of the OT labels Him:

Malachi 4:2 But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Luke 1:78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

The coming of Messiah is compared to the rising of the Sun in the morning. After a long, dark, gloomy night, the sun begins to rise. The warmth begins to be felt.

One of my favorite books of all time is “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" by C.S. In that book, the coming of Aslan the Lion is an allegory of the coming of Christ to this cursed world in order to redeem it. In the story, the Witch has placed a curse on all of Narnia- which was created by Aslan- causing it to be perpetually winter- frozen, dead, and cold. When the time is right, Aslan begins to make his move to dethrone the witch and reverse the curse. As the climactic confrontation draws closer, the winter of Narnia starts to melt. It is clear He is moving to strike the wicked work of the evil witch. The coming of Christ is like the rising of the Son or the coming of Aslan. It begins to thaw what has long stood in a state of deep freeze.

O Come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by they drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight

The coming of Christ chases night away and changes the entire perspective of life.

5. 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

The final verse of this great hymn refers to the coming Savior as “thou Key of David”. This is a reference to David the King and His lordship over Jerusalem- the dwelling place of the Temple, Zion, God’s people. Isaiah is fond of referring to David in Messianic terms, meaning that his eventual offspring will bring a spiritual, eternal reality to all the physical ways David was ruler of Israel. Very simply- Christ holds the key to heaven Christ is the one who leads His people to ultimate victory over sin-not only it’s penalty and power- but it’s presence when we all enter the heavenly Jerusalem ruled by King Jesus!

Isaiah 22:22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

I would humbly submit several relevant thoughts for us today related to this hymn-

1. There is great value in knowing the Old Testament well

This hymn identifies 5 different OT passages that label the Messiah and forecast His coming- Emmanuel, Rod of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, Lord, King. To know Christ better is to know Him Better in all of the Bible’s revelation about Him Photo albums really help us to know someone better….so does a better knowledge of the OT. Read the book of Micah this year during Advent! I dare you to read through Isaiah!

2. We need to be “ransomed” from the penalty and power of sin

The opening verse uses the vivid word ransom. Ransom, among other things, means an outside power must act to save you. The hymn uses vivid imagery- all biblical imagery- to give us the straight story about our condition and our need to be rescued!

v. 1- Ransom, mourning, exile
v. 2- The awful otherness of God in the giving of the Law we fail to keep- reminded of our sin!
v. 3- Free (means we are enslaved), under Satan’s tyrrany (we are helpless, need liberation), depths of hell is our state, destined to the grave! Not a bright future!
v. 4- Cheer us (we need it in our sinful state), under gloomy clouds of night (the darkest of dark- not even stars or moon to give light!), the inevitability of death always looms- death’s dark shadows…the reeper comes
v. 5- Need to be led out of all this mess we are in- to be freed from misery (what a graphic term)

3. Like all Great Hymns, we are reminded-against the backdrop of our sin- Our Savior is totally sufficient to rescue us!

As bad as it is-and it is-Christ is that good, sufficient, faithful, and able redeemer who saves us. Every title for Christ makes clearer the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to save us!

v. 1- GOD WITH US (his intimacy with us)
v. 2- Lord of Might (his power)
v. 3- The Rod of Jesse- the long awaited Savior- not a “plan B”, the very Ancient of Days
v. 4- Dayspring form on High- comes to dispel the darkness, He is the Light, He is the Way
v. 5- Key of David- Not one of the keys- THE KEY to heaven and eternal life- able to escort us safely Home.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.


Zach said...

Nice exposition. Well-done. One of the greatest hymns of the faith.

Woody Woodward said...

As I read each carefully articulated and prayed over word, my eyes filled with tears of WHO HE IS and why HE CAME for me? How my heart breaks for the millions upon millions, who will awake Christmas morning, as they have so many times in the past, and without a clue as to the depth of why we celebrate His great birth, will open gifts, maybe giving with much love, but it is only a vain and temporary taste of what giving really means. Christ gave it ALL! Now in this REJOICE that GOD IS WITH US!