The time period that inspired O Come, O Come Emmanuel was a turbulent one. Spain, Portugal and North Africa had fallen to the Moors, the Vikings were marauding in the North, and East, even going so far as attacking Constantinople in what is now Turkey. The Roman Empire was continuing its disintegration and it was during this century that feudalism came into existence in France. Things were looking grim from the East to the West, from the North to the South, and it is no wonder that Christians looked to the time of the coming of Jesus with longing.
Veni, Veni Emmanuel is a synthesis of the great “O Antiphons” that are used for Vespers during the octave before Christmas (Dec. 17-23). These antiphons are of ancient origin, dating back to at least the ninth century. It is interesting to note that the initial words of the actual antiphons in reverse order form an acrostic: O Emmanuel, O Rex, O Oriens, O Clavis, O Radix (“virgula” in the hymn), O Adonai, O Sapientia. ERO CRAS can be loosely translated as “I will be there tomorrow”.[i]
In this chanted response we hear the call to the Messiah to bring light into the darkness. (Sing Veni Veni, Emmanuel)
In the early first century things were grim for Israel. The Romans had brutally suppressed every uprising and it felt like no one had heard from God’s prophets for a long time. The Jews were starting to fragment, with many schisms and different voices competing for religious dominance. Most Jews tried to keep to themselves and not get caught up in the religious arguments going on around them while struggling to survive under the burdens of oppression. But God had not abandoned his people! (Story of Zacharias and Elizabeth. Z Chosen by lot to enter temple, disbelieved and was unable to speak after expressing disbelief, wife accepted blessing with joy, at birth of John he was able to speak again and said.)
Zacharias: May the Lord God of Israel be blessed indeed!
For God’s intervention has begun,
and He has moved to rescue us, the people of God.
69 And the Lord has raised up a powerful sign of liberation for us
from among the descendants of God’s servant, King David.
70 As was prophesied through the mouths of His holy prophets in ancient times:
71 God will liberate us from our enemies
and from the hand of our oppressors![e]
72-74 God will show mercy promised to our ancestors,
upholding the abiding covenant He made with them,
Remembering the original vow He swore to Abraham,
from whom we are all descended.
God will rescue us from the grasp of our enemies
so that we may serve Him without fear all our days
75 In holiness and justice, in the presence of the Lord.
76 And you, my son, will be called the prophet of the Most High.
For you will be the one to prepare the way for the Lord[f]
77 So that the Lord’s people will receive knowledge of their freedom
through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 All this will flow from the kind and compassionate mercy of our God.
A new day is dawning: the Sunrise from the
heavens will break through in our darkness,
79 And those who huddle in night,
those who sit in the shadow of death,
Will be able to rise and walk in the light,[g]
guided in the pathway of peace.
- The turbulence of our time.
- God’s intervention has begun.
- God will rescue and redeem.
- Rescued and redeemed for holiness and justice. Live holy lives dedicated to justice.
- Knowledge of freedom comes from forgiveness of sin. Who are we showing God’s freedom to?
- God’s new day is one ruled by compassion and mercy.
- When we live out the compassion and mercy of God, we reflect his light into the valleys of the shadow of death and guide others into the pathways of peace.
- God’s intervention has begun, are we ready to take our place in his plan of redemption?
[i] Martin, Michael W. Treasury of Latin Prayers. 1998-2014. http://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/VeniEmm.html (accessed 12 11, 2014).