“In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)
What you observe of something on the surface doesn’t always give the complete picture of its actual substance. To many who look at Jesus, He appears to be nothing more than a good, moral teacher who left humanity with some principles for life that are worth pondering. It’s only when you dig deeper into Christ that you discover Jesus is unimaginably and unfathomably more. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an ancient hymn that masterfully unpacks the hidden treasures of Christ by unveiling its own hidden treasures. Originally written by 8th-century monks, the hymn was used during Advent to set the expectation of Christ’s coming leading up to Christmas. It’s a beautiful song, but the true hidden gem lies within the structure of the poem. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O Antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve. These were songs declaring different attributes of Jesus. In “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” these antiphons are gathered into one song and speak of the various titles of Jesus. Each verse of the hymn calls for Jesus to “come” and addresses a unique part of His identity and mission.
Jesus is Emmanuel (Isaiah 8:8) – Being “God with us,” Christ reveals to us the heart of God the Father.
Jesus is the Rod of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) – Springing from a dead stump, He will free His people from Satan’s tyranny by death and resurrection, making them free forever.
Jesus is the Dayspring (Luke 1:78) – As the Light of the World, Jesus will shine God’s righteousness and banish darkness forever.
Jesus is the Key of David (Isaiah 22:22) – He alone holds the keys to life and death. He opens doors no man can shut and has unlocked the gate for us into heaven.
Jesus is the Desire of Nations (Haggai 2:7) – One day He will rule and reign over every nation, tribe, and tongue with His benevolent and mighty hand.
The song becomes an even more intriguing treasure when you discover that the antiphons create an acrostic, and when you reverse the acrostic, it becomes that Latin phrase “Ero Cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” It appears that even the early monks were hoping and praying for the quick return of Jesus! They also recognized that Jesus was ever present for every need. May this also be true of us in every area of life. For every longing and need we have, we must begin with the simple prayer, “O come, O come, Jesus!” We will discover that Jesus isn’t merely the answer to our salvation; He is the answer to everything else as well.
Go into any store, restaurant, or other consumer establishments shortly after Thanksgiving ends, and you’re sure to hear familiar tunes over the bustling crowds that only show up once every year. In between “Jingle Bells” and “Silver Bells,” there’s a good chance you’ll hear no bells at all; there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself thoughtlessly humming along to the humble story penned in “Silent Night.” I say thoughtlessly not because you’re a thoughtless person, but because familiarity with something can often cause us to overlook its significance. How many hundreds of thousands of people sing “Silent Night” every year as part of their Christmas traditions, but ultimately skim over the jaw-dropping theological truths found hidden beneath the surface of those 19th-century lyrics?
There was once a young boy who was singing this well-loved Christmas carol in church when he, with a perplexed look on his face, turned and asked his mother, “Mom, who is Herald?” Likewise, many of us have probably sung this tagline hundreds of times without thinking much about what the words mean. If we translated the title into modern day vernacular, it would read something like, “Listen! The angels are singing a heavenly message!”
It would be difficult for any of us to conceive of what life and ministry would have been like during the height of the American Civil War. Who would have imagined that the Civil War would have been a backdrop for one of the most beautiful and beloved Christmas carols of our time? Phillips Brooks, the author of the “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” was an Episcopal priest, a powerful preacher and committed American patriot in the mid-late 19th century. He was a vocal advocate of the abolitionist cause and believed the gospel should infiltrate and saturate the practical world, bringing forth equity and justice for all.
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” is a hymn that centers around expectation. What comes to mind when you think of the word “expectation?” Perhaps the fantastic time you’re planning to have on your long-anticipated summer vacation to Hawaii. Maybe you think of how fulfilling and easy your new marriage is going to be. Perhaps it speaks to the incredible (or horrible) time you’re going to have with your friends, family, or maybe even enemies this Christmas! Expectations are nothing more than measured hopes. Our expectations define what we believe will be the outcome of any given situation or circumstance. Our expectations can frequently lead us to disappointment because we seldom factor in that we live in a sinful world where good things can come apart at the seams within the blink of an eye.
PREFACE: I recently had the blessing of writing six devotional pieces that briefly share the history, content, and meaning of some of our favorite Christmas carols. Between now and Christmas I will be releasing two per week. I trust that these short writings will enrich the weeks leading up to Christmas as you take moments to place Christ at the center of your Christmas. It’s my hope, that through reading these devotions, you will come to see these familiar Christmas carols in a fresh, new light.
Joy to the World: The King has come. The King is coming.