Monday, December 03, 2012

Advent Day Two: death's dark shadows put to flight


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 you, O Israel!

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high, who ordered all things mightily; 
To us the path of knowledge show, and teach us in her ways to go.  
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, Thou Dayspring: 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 you, O Israel!

O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; 
Bid all our sad divisions cease, and be Yourself our King of peace.  
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

 I had never heard that song until I moved to Kingston and, as a student, attended St. James Anglican Church.  At that time (perhaps they still do) St. James had an advent carol service every year, and it was so lovely and meaningful.

At a particular point in the service was the Advent candle lighting.  Each of us would take the candle we'd been given as we entered the church, and we would walk to the front, light our candle, and place it in this big candle holder made of a series of boards with holes cut into it, so by the end there was a huge bank of light at the front of the church.  (I also remember that one of the caretakers would be crouched down behind a table with a fire extinguisher -- even the most sublime moments have their mundane aspects I suppose!)

And all during this time we would sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."  I never wanted to reach the last verse; I wanted it to go on forever.  It was one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard, with its haunting minor key and the reference to Jesus coming to rescue His people from "lonely exile."

I also remember one year there was a reading of J.B. Phillips' touching story "The Visited Planet", which tells of a small angel learning about how "the Light Himself went down there and lived among them."  So for me, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is about the Light:  the flickering candles in the church and the great Light that overcomes the darkness forever.

Note:  for a breathtaking instrumental version of this carol, check out this video of The Piano Guys performing it to a dramatization of the life of Jesus.


  1. You have chosen one of my favorite hymns, Jeannie. Lonely exile, sad divisions, gloomy clouds of night: they all cease because our God is Emmanuel, the God who is with his people. Beautiful.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tim. If everyone who reads this blog (few though they be!) enjoys this series as much as I'm enjoying it so far, it should be great!


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