The Story Behind “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”


This hymn has become one of my favorites over the last few years. Since I was studying Latin during that time I am partial to this song because of its Latin roots. This song was originally song in Latin masses and eventually made its way to a wider audience.

In its original form, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was known as a song of the “Great Antiphons” or “Great O’s.” The initial Latin text, framed in the original seven different verses, represented the different biblical views of the Messiah. One verse per day was sung or chanted during the last seven days before Christmas.

For the people of the Dark Ages—few of whom read or had access to the Bible—the song was one of the few examples of the full story of how the New and Old Testament views of the Messiah came together in the birth and life of Jesus. Because it brought the story of Christ the Savior to life during hundreds of years of ignorance and darkness, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” ranks as one of the most important songs in the history of the Christian faith.

The song owes its worldwide acceptance to a man named John Mason Neale. Born on January 24, 1818, this Anglican priest was educated at Trinity College in Cambridge. Brilliant, a man who could write and speak more than twenty languages, he should have been destined for greatness. Yet many feared his intelligence and insight. At the time, church leaders thought he was too evangelical, too progressive, and too much a freethinker to be allowed to influence the masses. So rather than get a pastorate in London, Neale was sent by the church to the Madiera Islands off the northwest coast of Africa…

Neale was an avid reader of anything related to the scriptures and came across the song in a Latin songbook. He translated it into English with the lyrics beginning with “Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel.”


The tune that went with Neale’s translation had been used for some years in Latin text versions of the song. “Veni Emmanuel” was a fifteenth century processional that originated in a community of French Franciscan nuns living in Lisbon, Portugal. Neale’s translation of the lyrics coupled with “Veni Emmanuel” was first published in the 1850s in England. Within twenty-five years, Neale’s work, later cut to five verses and called “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” grew in popularity throughout Europe and America.

The first verse comes from Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23. Isaiah 11 is the inspiration for the verse describing Jesus as the rod of Jesse. Malachi 4:2 tells us that Jesus is the “sun of righteousness,” the Dayspring. The “Key of David” is found in Isaiah 22:22.

This hymn is a great musical source of biblical teaching. It condenses what the Old Testament tells us of the purpose of Jesus’ advent and ministry into seven verses. Just like how Jesus revealed to His disciples what the Law and the Prophets said about Him as they walked on the road to Emmaus so this hymn reveals Jesus’ manifold fulfillment of prophecy. He is truly Christ the Lord.


Where Jesus And Bob Marley Agree, Almost


No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Matthew 6:24,25

This teaching which Jesus lived by illustrates how different Jesus was from all men. No one can match the impeccable timing of His perfect words and actions. When growing up I thought that His behavior was so extraordinary that you couldn’t really know why He did what He did. I understand now that He was so different because He understood the scriptures and applied them, not because of some secret knowledge or powers.

This is quite a radical teaching when you think about it. It is so different from how we come to live our lives. Not only do we worry about our basic needs but we also add things to our list of concerns that we think are necessary when they really aren’t. Our nature is to serve mammon but you can’t serve mammon and God.

It is very easy to make our own plans and confuse them with God’s will. People often ask me where I see myself in five years but I can’t see myself in five months, or even five days from now. But how can anyone see that? Anyone who tries to speak with certainty about the future is fooling himself. You can say all you want about your five-year goals but they’re utterly meaningless because you have no power or knowledge regarding the future.

When you spend month after month looking for a job and watching your bank account dry up all you can think about is how you will survive. The stress makes you despair of life. Your mind is consumed with thoughts of what you don’t have and can’t do. You realize that you have no control over anything but you also feel powerless to overcome your circumstances. It’s like you’re playing a rigged game. This kind of worry is, in one sense, what Jesus meant by serving mammon.

We do not live simply for bread alone but for God’s pleasure, as Jesus told the devil during His temptations. Jesus teaches us that God already has a plan and a purpose for us and He has the power to make it reality. His plans are better than ours and provide a fulfillment we will never find on our own. They concern more than just what careers we have or what accomplishments we achieve. The big picture goes beyond our parochial hopes and stretch beyond our short lifetimes.

We must look to the Father as the source of our life and the provider of all our needs. Jesus said to seek the kingdom and righteousness and leave the concerns over our provision to the Father. Jesus is telling us to be carefree, not careless. Food and raiment aren’t trivial but if they become the focus of our attention then it will distract us from serving God. It’s either God or mammon. Whom will you choose?

What is the point of your life? Are you living for the kingdom or are you just living?

Introduction to Matthew

Matthew Gospel

My devotional study has taken me from Isaiah to Matthew. You will see posts on chapters one through seven over the next few weeks. My study guide includes an introduction and an analysis for the first time I come to a book. From the intro in Alan Stibbs’ Search the Scriptures:

It is customary to see in Matthew’s Gospel the fact that Jesus is presented especially as the Messiah, the promised Son of David. This is true; but it also declares that He is the Saviour from sin (1:21) and the Son of God (1:23; 3:17; 16:16,17); and although the writer was obviously a Jew to the core, and wrote primarily for Jewish Christians, yet he recognizes that Jesus is the Saviour, not of the Jews only, but of all nations (2:1,11; 28: 19,20). Nevertheless, this is the most Jewish of the Gospels. It is significant that our Lord’s genealogy is traced back, not to Adam, as in Luke’s account, but to Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.

The story of the birt of Christ shows distinct signs of being derived from Joseph’s side, as the story given by Luke would seem to come from Mary’s.

The Gospel is characterized by the large place it gives to the teaching of our Lord, and in particular to His teaching in parables and about ‘things to come’.

God’s Yoke Is Easy


Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.

They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.

Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:

And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.

Isaiah 46:1-4

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Are you anxious or stressed? Well then, stop weighing yourself down carrying those idols.

The difference between my good and bad days is whether I have truly sought the Lord, especially in the morning. On a bad day I am doing what I think is important, which doesn’t sound bad except that the problem is I invariably end up stressed and frustrated.

It’s not that I only have problems on bad days and none on good days but that the same problems that I face on a good day become unbearable. It’s only a matter of time before my cunning only gets me so far. The harder I try the faster I get nowhere. That is the price for serving Mammon.

Adam and Eve could not stand the shame of being naked when they first sinned. Martha, when she was slaving away in the kitchen, could not handle the burden of all her cares and snapped at Jesus. All sin offers is a life of unbearable cares followed by the worst kind of death, one that leads to condemnation.

In these chapters of Isaiah (between 40 and 50) God talks much of liberating Israel from captivity which was brought about by their betrayal of the Lord. Paul later writes about how we were slaves to sin before Jesus set us free. Now that we are free we are the servants of God.

The difference between God and idols is that we have to carry our idols but God offers to carry us. God does not weigh us down with a burden that cannot be lifted. Jesus offered His yoke which was light.

As I mentioned before, this is not a promise of a care-free life because it is full of troubles. But Jesus has overcome the world and so we do not have to fear. All we have to do is lean back and let Him carry us. His grace is sufficient to for us to be strong and courageous as we serve Him.

I think this song is just right for the topic, Lay My Burden Down.