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O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times once gave the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, strong Branch of Jesse, free
Your own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell your people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.


O come, blest Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your 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.


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

(**Note: There are variations to the order and wording of this hymn. I have used the verse order and wording found in the Lutheran Book Of Worship, copyright 1978.)

The song tells the story complete. The beginning groans. The end victorious. The middle with its lurches and lulls.

As a child I saw the Bible more like a book of fairy tales, only these stories I believed to be true: mysterious characters who heard from their invisible Creator who made crazy things happen—the heavens, the earth, floods, plagues, and a boy who killed a giant. Each story had its own beginning, middle, and end; each had its share of drama and a moral driven home, which I usually took as: Don’t make God mad.

But other than the patriarchs I didn’t notice the undercurrent of the big idea—namely, that Emmanuel, Lord of Might, Branch of Jesse, Dayspring, and Key of David were the same One, writing the same story. Every story in the Scriptures ultimately tells His Story–The Big Story: He who created mankind would rescue mankind, redeem mankind, and then graciously allow mankind to reign with Him forever.

This is the story told through a song written in the silence of an early church monastery; penned by an unnamed monk. Someone who studied the Scriptures, recognized the arc of its story, plotted events along its curved line, then worshipped its Author by penning the lyrics of a now beloved Advent chant…

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appears.

Exiled. Cast out. Banished from one’s home, place. Comfortless. This was the state of His people. This was the state of me. Surrounded by civilization, full of the world and all its big ideas, but separated from the One who gives full life—life abundant. Life eternal. Slave to sin, mastered by the temporary. Mournful and lonely without even understanding why. Until Emmanuel, God with us, appeared.

O come, O come, Great Lord of Might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times once gave the law
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

The Lord of Might answers the cry. He orchestrates plagues and death and leadership by a reluctant Egyptian-Jew. But freedom is not freedom if chaos ensues. So the Law is given—inscribed in stone at the top of a mountain covered in smoke and awe. A Law-wisdom that, if obeyed, would result in blessing upon blessing from one generation to the next.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city…in the field…the fruit of your womb…the fruit of your cattle…the increase of your herds and the young of your flock…Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.”

                                                                        –Deuteronomy 28: 1-6

Oh come, strong Branch of Jesse, free
Your own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.

A law written on stone is not enough. For who stands righteous before a Holy God? Who stands sinless? Even in my greatest longing to delight in God’s law, I find another law at work; the law of evil close at hand every time I desire to do right. The law of my flesh waging war with the law of my mind, keeping me captive to the sin within me.

Who will save me from this wretched Tyranny?! (Romans 7:21-25)

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse…
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…”
–Isaiah 11:1-3

The law must be written on one’s heart. Who can accomplish this but God?

So, He does. God provides a son. His Son. Offered like the ram in the thicket—coming from obscurity, raised in humility, sacrificed so the sons and daughters of God might live under a new covenant written on our hearts.

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

                                                            –Jeremiah 31:31-33 (bold, mine)

O come, blest Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by your advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Death is overcome. Sin is vanquished the way shadows shrink to nothing against the rising sun. God with us. Christ in us. Our spirits are kept in peace because the Spirit indwells—the Branch of Jesse gives wisdom—once etched on stone tablets, now etched forever in our hearts. He gives understanding, provides sound counsel, heals old wounds, casts light in places formerly shrouded by darkness.

1st Week of Advent: Prophesy & the Hope CandleOh come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path of misery.

Emmanuel. Lord of Might. Branch of Jesse. Dayspring. Key of David. Nothing can be shut that He opens. Nothing can be open that He shuts (Isaiah 22:22, Rev 3:7). The story that began with groans ends in victory.

And by His grace we prepare for the party.

Tomorrow begins the 2nd week of Advent. We’ll be lighting the Bethlehem or Peace Candle

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