Adapted from: https://www.thirdrva.org/sermons-index/o-come-emmanuel
READ: Isaiah 64:1-12
O Come O Come Emmanuel may be one of the most ancient hymns that we sing. Probably written in the 8th Century by monks, the Latin text was discovered by an English pastor named John Mason Neale in the 19th Century. He translated it into English and introduced it to the English speaking world.
The hymn is jam-packed with biblical imagery about the long-awaited Messiah. Each of the seven verses addresses Jesus by a different name, from “Emmanuel” to “Root of Jesse” to “Key of David.” And in each of the verses we are crying out for Jesus to come. This along with other Advent hymns takes the story of the ancient Israelite people and makes it our own. As they waited long for the Messiah to come and rescue them from exile, sin and darkness, so we still wait for Jesus to come and rescue us from exile, sin and darkness. Jesus has come, but we are still not home. Jesus has come, but we are still tormented by the presence of evil in our lives and world.
This coming of Jesus is both good news and bad news. It is good news because our world is broken beyond repair and we need God to fix it. He alone can. But it is bad news because the sin and evil that holds our world captive is not just “out there,” but is also “in here” in the places of our own hearts. Christians do not divide the world up into good people and bad people. As the text from Isaiah reminds us, even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags before God. Even our best acts are tainted with self-righteousness, vanity, pride and self-centeredness. The coming of Jesus to judge the world is scary news for all of us, because God sees into the deepest and most secret places of the heart. The darkness that envelopes the world also envelopes us.
Yet the gospel is the good news that the Judge who is coming in the future already came in the past to live and die for us. He came to pre-empt the judgment that awaited us by going to the cross to suffer judgment for the sin of humanity. He endured hell to bring us into heaven. He was enveloped in darkness so that we can be enveloped in light. The invitation of the gospel is to pre-empt judgment day by trusting in Jesus, God with us, and his atoning death for us. We can face the second advent of Jesus by trusting in what he did for us in his first advent. We therefore can now live fully awake, waiting for him to come without fear. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him” (1 Thess. 5:9-10).
In preparation for worship, read slowly through the hymn and try to identify all the different names of Jesus. Invite the Spirit to freshly reveal the person of Jesus to you in all his fullness.