Jeff Sanders' Blog

Return to

Home > December 2011 > The Story of "O Come O Come Emmanuel."

The Story of "O Come O Come Emmanuel."
By Dr. Jeff Sanders

I have loved singing this song at Christmas time.  The tune is slow and majestic and "haunting" and thrilling.  The theology of the words is impeccable.  The song is ancient. . . . and the author is unknown.  We have no idea who wrote this.  Just some monk sometime before 800 A.D.  A time in history we often call "the Dark Ages."  Civilization, it seemed, had broken down and mankind was sliding backwards into more chaos, ignorance, pestilence, and unending warfare.  But someone, somewhere in a monastery in Europe, penned a song that would reach across the ages to encourage and thrill millions even in the 21st century.  Who knew?

During those "Dark Ages" the Bible was inaccessible for most people.   But the monk who composed this song must have had a full and rich knowledge of Scripture.  The song displays a wealth of phrases from Old Testament prophecies that speak of the coming of the Messiah.  He is "the rod of Jesse," the "Dayspring from on high," the "Key of David," and "Wisdom from on high."  For the people of the Medieval world who did not have a Bible to read, this was a teaching tool, expressing the hope and truth of Christmas--- the fulfillment of ancient prophecies in the birth of Christ.  

But how did this tune become so popular worldwide?  In the early 19th century an Anglican priest named John Mason Neale was reading through an ancient book of hymns called the "Psalteroium Cantionum Catholicarum."  (Some people golf for relaxation; Fr. Neale read ancient hymns I suppose.)  Rev. Neale was a brilliant, but frail gentleman.  He could write and speak over twenty languages (!), and should have been a leading scholar/preacher of the Anglican church.  Apparently many were jealous of his intellectual prowess, and so through political chicanery he was shunted off to labor in some forgotten church in the Madeira islands near Africa.  

But he did not despair.   

On a paltry salary he established an orphanage, a school for girls, and a ministry to evangelize and reclaim prostitutes.  And while he was tirelessly educating and evangelizing, Rev. Neale came across this hymn of faith in a Latin text.  The tune that went with the text was from a 15th century French Franciscan convent of nuns ministering in Portugal.  Rev. Neale easily translated the Latin into English and gave the world a song.  Soon his translation made it to England, and from there "across the pond" to America and around the world.  

A gift was penned by unnamed monks over 1200 years ago.  Given a tune by nuns in an obscure convent.  Rediscovered by a forgotten evangelist off the coast of Africa.   The song of Emmanuel--- "God with us."  Hidden for centuries but now enjoyed by millions worldwide.  No one does it alone.  God is the One who orchestrates history.  And the theme of His song is "Emmanuel."  

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;

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011, 08:33 AM

Email to a Friend  |  Printer Friendly Page  |  Permalink | Comments

Bookmark and Share

Jeff Sanders' Bio


Past Posts

December 26
Christmas 1942
The Ghosts of Christmas Past -- 1941
The Ghosts of Christmas Past--1776
Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (Part 2)
George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation
The Contributions of Luther's Reformation
The Valley of Vision
Why ISIS Lost in Syria and Iraq...For Now

December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009

Search this blog:

Copyright 2008 American Policy Roundtable