Promise and Fulfillment

‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ is my favourite carol.

The story of Christmas is a story of promise and fulfillment. The long-awaited king has arrived; faithful Jews rejoiced at the fulfillment of God’s promises (Luke 1:39-43, 2:25-38). God is revealing himself to the world. And he does it by becoming one of us.

‘The Word became flesh and took up residence among us … the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ … No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son – the One who is at the Father’s side – He has revealed Him’ (John 1:14, 17, 18).

This advent of God-with-us is both a fulfillment and a new promise, pointing us towards a future with God. Jesus will return. The faithful will see him, live with him, and know him as their God forever, as promised through the prophets: ‘I will live with them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people’ (Leviticus 26Jeremiah 31Ezekiel 36).

‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’ is about promise and fulfillment. Sufjan Stevens performs a beautiful rendition. The full lyric (he picks three verses) is reproduced below the video.

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times did’st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

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9 thoughts on “Promise and Fulfillment

  1. Hehee I have embarrassing memories of this carol… a choir performance in church when I was about 13 or so, with me doing a solo on the first verse. Sounded awful. Needless to say, Sufjan Stevens did a much better job :o) It is a brilliant carol isn’t it!

  2. I don’t get why we sing this song at Christmas, it is surely a pre advent Jewish song. I can understand why jews may have sung it 2000+ years ago (not that it was around then) but don’t get why we sing it in churches today.

    OK, Sure it reminds us of what Christ did in the advent and why it happened but if that is a reason for singing it then why sing it in the future tense?

    It makes very little sense to sing now that we live post the resurrection. I understand that Israel could be the church, and the coming could be the coming again – but this idea doesn’t make sense with some of the lines e.g.
    “free
    Thine own from Satan’s tyranny
    From depths of Hell Thy people save
    And give them victory o’er the grave”
    this is strange to sing as post resurrection Christians.

    The tune is nice though..

    Just thought I would throw my two cents in.

    • True. It’s like Isaiah compared to Luke, in that sense. I for one think it’s helpful to sing songs like this as a remembrance that God’s work of redemption started long before Jesus’ birth, and that we Gentile Christians were grafted into God’s pre-existing people. I first learnt it as a pre-advent song (possibly due to the good explanatory work of my minister at the time), and I guess it helped give context to the narrative of Jesus’ birth, even to a young fellow as I was.

    • We sing it at Christmas because ‘it reminds us of what Christ did in the advent and why it happened.’ More precisely, it helps us understand and contextualize what we sing and hear about at Christmas (as Iain has already pointed out). The effect is the same as reading Simeon’s praise and prophecy in Luke 2 at Christmas: it reminds us that faithful Jews had been waiting for this event, in fulfillment of God’s prophecy.

      Should we now throw out anything that speaks from a place prior to the incarnation?

      Then again, you Presbyterians don’t celebrate Christmas at all, anyway 🙂

      • And as much as Advent is about the incarnation, it is also about reminding that Christ will come again (at least in the Anglican church).

        We sing this song because as Christians, this is our story now, and we are waiting for that final redemption when death shall be put to death, and God will be our God and we will be his people.

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