Christmas Hymn for 2020: O come, O come Emmanuel


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Four days before Christmas. Police shoots a mother and her son. Covid-19 is still here. Lockdown continues. What’s so festive about the season?

While my four-year old nephew is excited about Christmas, I doubt the same could be said about the adults. This week, it will not be as easy to sing “Joy to the World” and other upbeat and festive songs as we eat Noche Buena.

And while few sing this song nowadays, I think this will be the Christmas hymn of 2020: “O come, O come, Emmanuel”. The hymn was written a little over 1,200 years ago. And unlike the festive carols, this hymn is sung with a tinge of sadness. Both melody and lyrics carry a sense of mourning. I’ll be sharing the first 2 stanzas of this 5-stanza hymn:

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, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

And I think that this hymn shows three things about the church: (1) there is legitimate sorrow while we are here on earth, (2) we are exhorted to rejoice in the middle of that sorrow, and (3) we look forward to Emmanuel who will set all things right.


First, there is legitimate sorrow while we are here on earth. The hymn uses phrases that won’t be heard in most Christmas hymns and carols:

captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here
If you haven’t been able to fellowship with your church these past few months and you can’t be with friends and relatives because of the lockdown, you understand this phrase.

free Thine own from Satans tyranny; From depths of hell Thy people save
If you’ve seen how this pandemic has shown the worst of humanity then, you must believe in evil. There is a force that is out to corrupt man. And it has succeeded. The tyranny all around us is a product of the tyranny of sin and Satan. Christians are not exempt from his oppression. In fact, we are to expect to be sifted and to be buffeted while we are here on this earth. If you feel like you are in the depths of hell crying out to be saved, you understand this phrase.

Make safe the way that leads on high and close the path to misery
If you’ve been trying to stay emotionally, mentally, and spiritually afloat but you feel as if all the world – what you see all around you, what you hear on the news, what’s happening to you – is pushing you down to misery, then you understand this phrase.

Here’s the reality: Christmas is no shield from sorrow. Sorrow is real. It was real when Mary and Joseph delivered their baby boy in a stable unfit for a child. It was real when Israel was under Roman rule. It was real when Herod wanted Jesus assassinated and committed the atrocious murder of babies. So it is real today. And Christmas is no stranger to sorrow, mourning, pain, or loss.


Second, we are expected to rejoice in the midst of that sorrow. These two lines are repeated all across the five stanzas:

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

For each of the sorrows mentioned: exile, tyranny, death, gloom, and misery; there is a two-fold exhortation: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

I can hear Paul saying that seemingly contradicting line in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing”. Two chapters before that, Paul says: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8). As Tim Keller said in his February 18, 1990 sermon: there is a buoyancy in the Christian life.

Bottomline: we are not to lose hope. We are sorrowful but rejoicing.


Third, we look forward to Emmanuel who will set all things right. The previous exhortation has a basis: Emmanuel, the Rod of Jesse, Dayspring, Key of David, and Adonai. All of which are titles that look to Christ.

For the Israelites in exile, they had their hope in the Promise of Emmanuel in Isaiah 7. Emmanuel means “God is with us”. It points to the hope that God’s presence will be there to comfort them. And even beyond comforting presence is the assurance that all His promises will come to pass. If God is with them, then surely he is still for them! Emmanual means that in the midst of these tumultuous times, God’s presence comforts us and He remains to be for His people – wherever we may be.

In Christ, God came down in human flesh to live with us and to be with us. He is literally God with us! And He came to be for us. Even if it meant dying on a criminal’s cross.

Rod of Jesse
Tyranny is the experience of humanity. Give a person – or a group of them – immense power and abuse is likely to follow. However, the Bible points to Satan’s tyranny as the root of all tyranny. He corrupted angels and men through sin. At the root of all the problems in this world is not class struggles. It is sin.

Isaiah once again sings in Isaiah 11: “There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” And this is what the rod of Jesse will do:

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
His delight will be in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge
by what he sees with his eyes,
he will not execute justice
by what he hears with his ears,
but he will judge the poor righteously
and execute justice for the oppressed of the land.
The wolf will dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the goat.
An infant will play beside the cobra’s pit,
and a toddler will put his hand into a snake’s den.
They will not harm or destroy each other
on my entire holy mountain,
for the land will be as full
of the knowledge of the Lord
as the sea is filled with water

First, he will execute retributive justice on the wicked. Second, he will deliver restorative justice on the poor and the oppressed. Third, he will bring peace. The created order that was plunged into chaos will find peace and harmony through the Rod of Jesse. The Rod of Jesse is God setting things right. He promises both retributive and restorative justice.

In Christ, the prince of this world is cast out. To all who come to Christ, there is freedom from Satan’s yoke. We are freed from the power of sin and guilt. We find full freedom in Christ. And the awesome thing here is this: if the tyrants and oppressors come to Christ, He will reveal that they themselves are under the tyranny of sin and Satan. He will forgive them and He will restore them. Restorative justice is here.

And one day, Satan – who is the adversary of our souls – will be dealt with once and for all. Retributive justice is on its way.

Isaiah is a realist. In chapter 9, he says that “people [are] walking in deep darkness” and in chapter 60, he says that “darkness will cover the earth”. But Isaiah’s hope is as real as the darkness he sees. In fact, his hope has a reality that is weightier than all others.

Isaiah sings in the dark:

“Arise, shine; for thy light is come,and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light”

John also sings:

“In Christ was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it.”

Jesus is the hope that outshines this dark night. He is the sun rising from the east. He will not be stopped. When he died on the cross and he rose again, victory is sealed. We only wait for the day when our faith will be made sight – when the church militant becomes the church triumphant.

And until that day comes, there will only be two things we ought to do:

  1. Share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Offer Christ’s life, death, and resurrection as the only way for people to be forgiven of their sins.
  2. Live in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not lose hope. Do not give in to the way that this world faces oppression and tyranny. Pray, disciple, do good, and be salt and light wherever we are.


This coming Christmas, maybe take the time to sing this hymn. Talk about what you’ve lost, what you’re sorrowful about, and what you’re mourning over. Then, in one accord, exhort your souls:Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Kyle Lucido

Kyle Lucido

Kyle is a lay volunteer at CCF Makati. Reading and writing are the two passions that gave birth to his blog: KL Reads ( . Most of his posts are book reviews, infographics, and short essays on practical matters of life and faith.
Kyle Lucido

Kyle Lucido

Kyle is a lay volunteer at CCF Makati. Reading and writing are the two passions that gave birth to his blog: KL Reads ( . Most of his posts are book reviews, infographics, and short essays on practical matters of life and faith.

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