O Come O Come Emmanuel

O Come O Come Emmanuel


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent:  O Come O Come Emmanuel

Have you ever day-dreamed of using a time machine?  I would go back in time 2000 years ago, right before Jesus came.  I would like to experience what God’s people in Israel thinking were about the present and the future.

But it’s not hard to imagine.  Both OT and NT tell us what life was like.   They were experiencing the same kind of need we do today.

  • Bodies broken with disease
  • Death of people they loved.  And facing their own mortality.
  • Political conflict
  • War
  • Poverty
  • Hatred
  • Discrimination
  • Brutality, crime
  • Broken families, divorce, abuse

As we are aware of in our world today, so were the people of Israel aware of a broken world, badly in need of fixing.  Of repair.  They needed… redemption…..a Redeemer. 

Historically in many parts of the world, the four weeks leading up to Christmas have been a time of reflection.  Of looking to the coming of the Great Redeemer, Jesus.

Though we actually look back now in time historically, the church has also tried to place itself back in time and look ahead like Israel did for centuries.

Israel looked ahead to a coming day when God would make all things right through the Messiah.  Their forward look becomes our backward look. 

We are beginning a 4-week series on Advent.  Advent is from a Latin word that means, “coming.”

The first and obvious meaning is Jesus’ First Coming to earth.

But there is also a Second Coming.  A Second Advent.

To the First Advent we look backwards with reflection and awe.  To Second Advent we look  forward with hope and anticipation.

Each week of this sermon series will spotlight on one well-known hymn that relates to Christ’s Advent.  Today we’ll look at one of the songs we sang this morning, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

Each verse in that song is based on Scriptures, particularly a name or description given to Jesus from ancient prophecy.  Each name is rich with meaning.

His names tell us who he is and why he has come.  And why he will come again.

We will find thankfulness for the past.

We will trust him in the present.

We will find hope for the future. 

Background of the hymn

This morning, we will look in part at the song, O Come O Come Emmanuel.

Here is the first verse.

O come, O come Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

This is my favorite song for Advent.  And it’s because of the name Emmanuel.  God gave the name to his Son.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of it in 700 B.C., and Jesus was the fulfillment of it.

Matthew 1:23 ESV “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

Emmanuel means, as Matthew tells us, “God with us.”

(By the way, E-mmanuel is based on the Greek word, while I-mmanuel is based on the Hebrew word.)

The hymn has its origin in a 7-verse poem  from the 8th century.  Later that poem was made into five verses in 13th century.   Then translated into English in the 19th century and put to music.   So it has a long history.   

Each of the verses expounds on an OT name for the Messiah, Jesus.  (By the way, the title “Messiah” is the Hebrew word for “Christ,” which is a Greek word.  So when we say, Jesus Christ, we are saying Jesus Messiah.)

When we sing each verse of this hymn, we acknowledge Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophesies.  So as we sing, we rejoice in the first coming of Christ, his fulfillment of the Father’s eternal plan to save the world.  At the same time, the song relates to the second coming of Christ when he returns to judge the earth and establish his eternal kingdom on the earth.

Christ has come once.  He has accomplished a great work.  He has conquered death.  Emmanuel has come.

But at the same time, his work is not completed.   He is coming back again, and then his judgment and salvation will be complete.

It’s what has been called the “already-but-not-yet” of the Scriptures.  He has come, but his work has not been completed.  His salvation is here, but it’s not yet in its fullness.


O come, O come Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

The verse has its setting with Israel in mind centuries ago while they waited for the Messiah.

They would have been praying for Emmanuel to come.  They were captives, both physically and spiritually.  Various nations—the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans and others—had enslaved and exiled the people of Israel.  They needed a physical deliverer from their captivity. 

And that physical captivity was due to a spiritual rebellion.  Their sin against their God had brought on a “Soul Slavery.”

So they would have prayed like this verse:

O Come Emmanuel.  Ransom us.  We are captives.  Slaves.  Slaves to our sin.  Slaves to another nation.  We are mourning in this lonely exile.   God, you are far from us.  Would you come near as Emmanuel, “God with us”?

This is a humble prayer.  A desperate prayer.  We just finished a six-week series on the Psalms.  Many psalms are like this.  Sensing a distance from God, but calling out to him in desperation:  “O God, come near.”

I love this song because I love Jesus’ name, Emmanuel.  And I love the name because of its meaning.  “God with us.”  Over many years I have developed a list of all the Scriptures where God says to his people, “I am with you.”  OT and NT record over 50 times the Lord tells us that.

One example that has been very meaningful to me: 

Isaiah 41:10 NIV  “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

About 35 years ago, I was seeking God’s will about asking Annette to marry me.  I wanted to do God’s will, so I was praying, “Lord, should I marry her.”  I wanted to marry her, but I first wanted to be sure it was God’s will.  Yet I was terrified.  (You know how scary she is!  haha!  Actually, she’s the nice one of the two of us!)  No, I was afraid of missing God’s will.  I was afraid of the unknown.  Afraid I wouldn’t be a good husband.   But God used this verse and the truth of his nearness to encourage and strengthen me. 

I have found strength and comfort in these words (and other Scriptures like it) year after year for over 35 years.  “God is with us.”  It seems I am often tempted to believe that God is distant.  Absent.  That he doesn’t care or he is forgetful.  The words, “God is with us,” strengthens me.

We must hear this and believe this.  We desperately need the nearness of God.  Without this, we are FAR from God.  We are FAR because he is Creator and we are creature.  He is infinite and we are finite.  He is immortal and we are mortal.  He is holy and we are sinful.

In every way imaginable, we are distant from God.  We cannot get near without his intervention.  His help.  God has graciously sent his Son to be near us.  And with us. 

The name “Emmanuel” shouts to us of the nearness of God. 

If we know Jesus, Emmanuel…we will find comfort in our distress.  Find strength in our weakness.  Find forgiveness in our guilt.

On the surface, Immanuel doesn’t seem that unusual, for God has been in and around the earth and mankind since Creation.  But Immanuel was different:  this time God became one of us.  He not only took on human form,  but he took on human nature.  He became one of us. 

It’s called the Incarnation.  Deity taking on humanity.  The incarnation is among the more astonishing and significant miracles in history.

Author Wayne Grudem said this about the Incarnation:

“It is by far the most amazing miracle in the whole Bible… The fact that the infinite, omnipotent, eternal Son of God could become man and join Himself to a human nature forever, so that infinite God became one person with finite man, will remain for eternity the most profound miracle and the most profound mystery in all the universe.”

The divine took on the human. The Creator became like the created.  Heaven invaded earth. 

This is astonishing only if we have a correct view of God and man.

If our view of God is small, then the Incarnation is not so remarkable.

If our view of man is too elevated, even denying the depths of our depravity, then the Incarnation is not so necessary.

This stunning event called the Incarnation came with relatively little fanfare.  Only a few people even knew about it.

But the world was changed that day.  Darkness was to turn into light.  Slavery was to turn into liberty.  Blindness was to turn into sight.

Emmanuel came, and the world has never been the same. 


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.

I like this name “Dayspring.”  It comes from a prophecy made by Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father.  He prophesies about his son John, who will be a prophet preparing the way for Jesus, the Dayspring.  Jesus, the Sunrise, the Dawn of a new day.

Luke 1:76–79 ESV

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,

 78 because of the tender mercy of our God,

whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high

 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

In vs. 78, “Sunrise” means the dawn or “dayspring,” the beginning of the day.  The sun rises above the horizon, ending the night, ending the darkness, and bringing a whole new day.  It’s poetic language for what Christ has done.

Have you ever had a very hard day and night?  When the sun comes up the next morning, the new day can be comforting and strengthening.  The bad day is gone.  It’s time for a new day.

Once I had the flu, and I was up most of the night alone, in the dark, and very very sick.  By 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., I was longing for the sunrise.  When it finally came, I had great joy.  I felt better just having the new day.

That’s what it’s like for Jesus, our Dayspring, our Sunrise, to come into the world.  This world is filled with darkness and pain and brokenness.  But when Jesus the Sunrise comes, the light shining on the world is glorious.  There is new Hope. 

Like the hymn writer says,  O Dayspring….O Sunrise, cheer our spirits by your coming.  Disperse the gloom.  The clouds.  The shadows of death.  Bring your light. 

Early in Jesus’ ministry, he was in his hometown of Nazareth in the synagogue.

He went to the front, opened the scrolls of the Scriptures and found this prophecy from Isaiah 61 that spoke of him.

Luke 4:18–19 ESV

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and

recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

This is the language of God.  Good news.  Liberty.  Freedom.  Sight and light.  Favor. 

The light of the world—the Dayspring—the Sunrise— came once.  And he is coming again. 


O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s stem

Unto Thine own and rescue them

From depths of hell Thy people save

And give them victory o’er the grave

This name for Jesus comes from Isaiah 11.

Isaiah 11:1 ESV There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Jesse is the father of King David.  So using some organic language, Isaiah is prophesying of a coming ruler that sprouts off the line of Jesse and his son, David.

From two months ago, we studied Samuel.  And the Lord made a covenant with David, the son of Jesse.

2 Samuel 7:16 ESV And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’ ”

David’s throne would endure forever.  How?  Through an ancestor who is eternal…. who will be the King forever and ever.  This future ruler will come—as the song speaks of—to his own people and rescue them.  From the depths of hell, this coming Ruler will rescue people.  He will give them victory over our worst enemy, Death.

None of us can escape this great enemy, Death.  I just went to a funeral on Tuesday, and I am going to another one next Saturday, as reminders of Death’s hold on us.

Death is a ferocious, tenacious, terrifying enemy.  And it always wins.  Always…except once:  When this Root of Jesse rose from the dead into immortality. 

And because HE found victory over the grave, anyone who believes in him will find victory over the grave. 

God has promised us a ruler forever, this Branch from David, Jesse’s son. 

He will deliver us from our worst enemy, Death.

He will deliver us from every problem we have. 

He will rule with justice and righteousness.

He will rule with perfect wisdom.

He will rule with grace and mercy.

Personally, I long for a ruler like that.  I grow weary of evil rulers.  And rulers who promise but don’t deliver.  Rulers who actually cannot deliver.  They can’t give us what we truly need, at least not very completely. 

(And I assume our rulers grow weary of citizens like me and you who keep sinning.  Who don’t do all they can to improve our city and state and nation.)

If you are paying attention at all to the Presidential campaign, our nation is—as every nation is—starving for a good leader.  One who can make all things right.  As every nation in every generation has had, we have so many problems.  We are longing for a ruler to make all things right.

We will find it only in Emmanuel.  The Branch from the Root of Jesse.  The Son of David. 

Like Israel longed for and looked forward to this Ruler, we look back with gratitude.  But we also look forward with hope.   We long for the Advent of this Ruler.  We long for the return of Jesus to this world.

He has come once.  He promised to come again.    And when he comes again, he will come as a Righteous and Just Ruler.  No one will stand against him. 

Do you want a picture of what life will be like when this future Ruler comes?  When the Branch of Jesse comes in all his glory?

Revelation 19:11–16 ESV

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.

He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.

From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Our Need

God is the Redeemer of all things broken.  He comes to heal all that ails us.  To undo what we have undone.  He is the Remedy to our troubles.

This is the constant theme of the First Advent of Christ.  Actually, better:  it’s the constant theme of the Bible.

But wait!, we say.  All is not well on the earth.  If he came like this, why so much ailment and trouble and sin and darkness?  “Already-but-not-yet.”  The Fullness has come, but it’s also coming.

We have great need.  The Advent of Christ is our remedy.  The names and titles of Christ tell us how he meets our needs.

We face death.                        He is the Life.  The Resurrection and the Life.

We face wrath.       He is our Peace.  The Prince of Peace.

We are in darkness.                He is the Light.  The Light of the world.

We are deceived.    He is the Truth.  The Way, the Truth, and the Life.

We are hungry.       He is the Bread of Life. 

We are far from God.             He is Emmanuel who has come near.

As one of our songs says, “He is the One who has come and is coming again.  He’s the remedy.”

Emmanuel has come.  God is with us.

What do we take from all this?

What do we take from all this??

For the past, be gratefulEmmanuel is worthy of thanks, even when life is falling apart. 

He gives eternal life to all who ask for it.  He adopts us into his family.  We can be thankful.

For the present, trust.  Emmanuel is faithful, even when life is so unpredictable. 

He is the Solid Rock upon which we can stand.  He has sealed the believer with the Holy Spirit.  God is as near as he can be today.   We can trust him.

For the future, hope.  Long for Emmanuel, even when life is darkest. 

If you know Jesus, life will end up very, very, very well.  All wrongs will be made right.

Justice will be absolutely complete.  All that is done in Emmanuel’s name will not be forgotten, but will be rewarded.

“He is the One who has come and is coming again.  He’s the remedy.”


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