“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is a beloved Christmas carol, saturated with longing for God’s promised Messiah. We celebrate not only His coming as a baby at Christmas, which lies in the past, but also His Second Coming in glory, which lies in our future. Dating back to the eighth or ninth century, it’s one of the oldest carols we still sing today. Think of it— we’re singing about the same Savior as believers did 1,200 years ago!
We celebrate the hope brought by Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” While Gabriel announced this good news to Mary, an angel of the Lord shared the news with her betrothed husband-to-be, Joseph. Mary had of course told him her story, but it was just too unbelievable (v. 18). A virgin birth? Seriously? So he’d decided to divorce her quietly rather than proceed with marriage to an apparently immoral and dishonest woman (v. 19).
Then the angel appeared to him in a dream and confirmed Mary’s truthfulness. The child was conceived by the Holy Spirit and would “save his people from their sins” (vv. 20–21). This was another way of saying Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God, as had been prophesied long ago by Isaiah (vv. 22–23). The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.”
Joseph’s response was impressive (vv. 24–25). Consider the stakes: If he believed the dream and married Mary, but it was false, then his life was ruined and society would view him as a prize idiot. Nonetheless, he trusted God, married her, and named the child Jesus. For them as a couple, then, the hope of Christmas had both personal and cosmic implications. God’s redemption is always both— the fact that He is with us affects us as individuals as well as the whole world.
>> During your personal time of worship and reflection today, listen to the carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” or even sing aloud. You can look up all the verses in a hymnal or online!