Daniel Im: The Hidden Theology and History of ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’

If anyone had a side hustle or a gig, it was the Anglican priest and hymn writer John Mason Neale.

Neale (1818-1866) not only founded a nursing order of Anglican nuns, helped social welfare organizations care for orphans and young women, and was a warden of Sackville college, but he translated early and medieval Greek and Latin hymns in his spare time—focusing on the ancient ones that were written around “the feasts and the fasts of the Christian year.”[1]


While the hymn as we find it today was first published in the mid 19th century, its origins are actually found in a Benedictine Gregorian chant from the late eighth and ninth century. History tells us that beginning the week before Christmas, the monks would sing a verse a day to prepare their hearts and minds for Christmas.

What’s fascinating about the original seven verses is that each began with a Messianic title from the Scriptures that prophesied and foreshadowed Jesus’ coming:

  • Sapentia (Wisdom)
  • Adonai (God)
  • Radix Jesse (Stem or root of Jesse)
  • Clavis David (Key of David)
  • Oriens (Dayspring)
  • Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • Emmanuel (God with us)

If you’re interested in how each verse points to Jesus, you can watch the sermon that I preached on this hymn at the bottom of this article.

I did want to highlight the last verse, which is actually the first verse of the version that we sing today:

O come, O come, Emmanuel 
And ransom captive Israel 
That mourns in lonely exile here 
Until the Son of God appear


We see this prophecy about Jesus the Messiah in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.”

Jesus, the son of God, was going to leave it all, leave the right hand of God, to come and be with us, so that we can experience all that is talked about in the seven verses of this hymn…

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Source: Church Leaders

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