The Back Story to 'O Come O Come Emmanuel'

It is probably my favorite Christmas carol. "O Come O Come Emmanuel" is slow and majestic, haunting and thrilling and comforting. Here is my favorite rendition of it, in Latin with English subtitles:

The theology is ancient, rich, and deep. And the author is unknown. Very possibly it was a monk or nun somewhere in Europe wrote this as a poem sometime before AD 800 (as part of a series of hymns called the "Antiphons"). We sometimes refer to that era as "the Dark Ages" (but it was modern times for the people who were living in it!).

For us today it seems like civilization just fell apart after the fall of the Roman Empire. Mankind slid backwards into chaos, ignorance, pestilence, and unending warfare. But someone, somewhere penned a poem that would reach across the ages and encourage millions today. Who knew?

During those "Dark Ages," the Bible was inaccessible to most people. But the author who wrote this poem must have had a full knowledge of Scripture. The words about the coming of the Messiah display a wealth of phrases from both the Old and New Testaments. He is the "rod of Jesse," the "Dayspring from on high," the "Key of David," and "Wisdom from on high."

For the people of the Medieval world who had little access to actually reading the Bible, poetry (and other art forms) taught them, expressing the hope and truth of Christmas — that we are not alone in the universe, but that God has kept His ancient promises and entered human history to redeem mankind.

Next Page: The amazing story of the man who rediscovered this hymn.