One of my favorite Christmas hymns is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” I’ve always loved the sense of longing that the carol expresses. In this age of the already and the not yet, it is certainly appropriate to look forward to the day when Christ will come in glory. I love that this hymn evokes the past, present, and future realities of Christianity.
Jennifer Grassman, a gifted musician and member of our church, has written an article on the history of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” She interviewed a rabbi, a seminary professor, and our own pastor, Pastor Dave Muntsinger about the significance of the themes in the hymn. Here is a short excerpt:
As a songwriter and author—not to mention being an avid reader and history buff as well – this reporter finds that good lyrics are always extremely interesting as are the stories behind them. Old hymns and carols are of particularly intriguing, but perhaps none of their backstories are as curious as the evolution of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” We sing the hymn every year in church, we hear it on the radio, and our kids sing it in school musicals. In fact, many of us have grown so accustomed to it that we don’t really hear the words at all anymore!
But did you know that this carol was written between the 8th and 12th century A.D., during a time when Rome was being ravaged by plagues and by war? Did you know that the original composer wrote the hymn’s lyrics in Latin? Or did you ever imagine that it was penned from a pre-Christian Jewish perspective? Questions surrounding this hymn have been around for years. But the key dilemma is this: Was the peculiar perspective of this hymn simply a matter of artistic choice, or could an individual of the Jewish faith possibly have written it?
Time to investigate.
To read the rest of the article, click here.