Today is Advent Sunday, the beginning of four weeks' preparation for Christmas. Our Advent Carol service (another plug!) is tonight at 6pm, and we hope that you can join us. The service will last no more than one hour, and will include motets sung by the choir, congregational hymns, and scripture readings.
One of my favourite Advent hymns is O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The text of this hymn is a versification of the traditional O Antiphons, which we sing at Evening Prayer before and after the Magnificat in the seven days before the great Feast of Christmas.
The first line of each verse refers to a title of the long-awaited Messiah used by authors in the Hebrew Scriptures:
Branch of Jesse;
Key of David;
Desire of Nations.
The version I've chosen uses the Latin text of the hymn, but a translation is below. The text reminds us that the Messiah was long-awaited, and that many of the major Old Testament figures longed for him.
Such longing continues into the New Testament: we think particularly of the joy of old Simeon in the temple, who had waited his whole life to glimpse the Messiah. Remember his song of joy on encountering the infant Christ for the first time - he could now die happy:
Lord, now dismiss your servant in peace: your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen your salvation: which you have prepared in the sight of all people.
A light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people, Israel.
The melody is derived from a French plainsong tune. The arrangement I have chosen is by Philip Lawson and performed by The King's Singers.
1. O come, O come, Emmanuel!
Redeem thy captive Israel
That into exile drear is gone,
Far from the face of God's dear Son.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
2. O come, thou Branch of Jesse! draw
The quarry from the lion's claw;
From the dread caverns of the grave,
From nether hell, thy people save.
3. O come, O come, thou Dayspring bright!
Pour on our souls thy healing light;
Dispel the long night's lingering gloom,
And pierce the shadows of the tomb.
4. O Come, thou Lord of David’s Key!
The royal door fling wide and free;
Safeguard for us the heavenward road,
And bar the way to death's abode.
5. O come, O come, Adonai,
Who in thy glorious majesty
From that high mountain clothed in awe,
Gavest thy folk the elder Law.