A brief meditation on the hymn O Come, O Come, Immanuel.

O come, O come, Immanuel,
and ransom captive Israel
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.

The very first exile in the Bible is the exile from the Garden of Eden. Mankind was exiled from God and was awaiting the return from exile. Later in scripture, we see that the land of Israel is described in very similar language to Eden. Israel is like a new Adam that has come back into the Garden. However, like Adam, Israel sins, and as punishment, God sends them into exile. While Israel was allowed to return to the land after 70 years, things were not the same. Israel remained under foreign occupation. They had to await the messiah to bring them back from exile. The Jews understood this as the messiah coming to bring a worldly kingdom, but the real messiah, Jesus, did not bring them back from exile in Babylon, but exile from Eden!

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

In the days of Ahaz, king of Judah, there was a great crisis. It appeared that the throne of David would be destroyed by enemy nations. However, the prophet Isaiah insisted that God would keep his promise to the house of David, and this would be shown by the birth of a child named “God-with-us.” The Jews misunderstood this to mean that God would never allow the nation of Judah to fall, but it fell to the Babylonians. Instead, it is Jesus, the Immanuel, who reigns forever on the throne of David in Heaven over his kingdom, the Catholic Church.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go.

In the Old Testament wisdom literature, we see that God the Father created all things through another figure, named Wisdom. This Wisdom is from God the Father but has also existed for all eternity. St. John tells us in the gospel that this Wisdom took on flesh and dwelt among us.

O come, O come, great Lord of might,
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe.

The clearest theophany in the Old Testament was at Mount Sinai. Millions of people watched as God’s glory descended upon Mount Sinai and Moses was given the law. This would be the law the people of God would live by until the coming of Christ. However, Christ has now brought a new and greater law by an even greater theophany, the incarnation.

O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them!
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

Before Isaiah prophesied of Immanuel, God had told him that Israel would be like a tree that is cut down, with only a stump, the righteous remnant, would remain. In a later prophecy, Isaiah sees a branch shoot forth from the stump of Jesse, David’s father. This is a prophecy of the messiah. The messiah, Jesus, did not save by reestablishing the kingdom of Judah, but by freeing us from death and Satan!

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.

In the kingdom of Judah, the king always had a prime minister who managed the affairs of his kingdom. This man was given the keys of David, which symbolized that he had the authority of the successor of David. In the book of Revelation, we see that Christ now has this key as the successor to David, and thus he can open the gates of Heaven for us. We also see though in the Gospel of Matthew that Christ gave these keys to St. Peter. This symbolizes how the Church has been given the authority to bind and loose sins in the name of Christ.

O come, O Bright and Morning Star,
and bring us comfort from afar!
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light.

In the creation week, we see the pattern of evening and then morning. This is the pattern of all of human history. After Adam and Eve fell, they brought humanity into a period of night. However, Christ has come and brought the day. This is why Malachi describes him as the Sun of Righteousness and John describes him as the Light that shines in the darkness.

O come, O King of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind.
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace.

One of the key issues of the Jews, both in the time of the prophets and in the time of Christ, is that they kept thinking that the purpose of the messiah would be for themselves. However, the prophets kept reminding them about how God was the God of all mankind and so he would come to restore all the nations. He would bring the whole world back to Eden and make peace between all men. As Isaiah prophesied, the Immanuel would be called the “King of Peace.”

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