Monday, December 26, 2011

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

(a.k.a. Veni, Veni, Emmanuel)


Latin and English:

Veni, veni, Emmanuel
Captivum solve Israel,
Qui gemit in exsilio,
Privatus Dei Filio.

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
Nascetur pro te Israel!

Many have sung this Latin chant over the centuries. Though it is somewhat unclear when it was written, it either comes from the 8th Century Gregorian chants, or from the 15th Century Franciscan order of nuns, according to Wikipedia. In any case, it is traditionally sung during the Advent season, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It wasn't until the 19th century that John Mason Neale and Henry Sloane Coffin translated it into English. It is a plea for Emmanuel, "God with us," to come and save us from our our bondage. Prophets such as Isaiah foretold of a Messiah who would be called Emmanuel, who would save Israel. Through the years, Israel went through bondage to Babylon and Assyria, and then later to Rome. The Jews longed for their promised Messiah to come. (Many Jews still do today.)

The first verse pleads with Emmanuel to come and ransom Israel, who is groaning in exile. The second verse asks for wisdom. The third verse asks the Lord to come, and it remembers the Law that He presented to Moses on Mt. Sinai with "majestic glory" (literal translation of the Latin). The fourth verse, from what I can tell, appears to be an appeal to God to use the shepherd's staff of Jesse (David's father) to catch the enemy (Satan and sin) and hurl him into the cavernous pit of hell. The fifth verse asks the metaphorical Key of David (Jesus was prophesied to be a descendant of David) to unlock the way to heaven and lock the way to hell. The sixth verse asks for comfort, and to get rid of the darkness of death. The last verse appeals to the King of the Nations and Redeemer of all (God) to come and save the people on earth who are slaves to sin.

Due to the challenges of translating a song into English, some of the ideas in the verses were lost or adjusted. The English lyrics must still fit in the tune and rhyme, so it is much more difficult to get a literal translation than, say, translating a book. One line I find interesting was the line Noctis depelle nebulas, Dirasque mortis tenebras in the sixth verse. The official English translation is "Disperse the gloomy clouds of night And death's dark shadow put to flight." The last two words, mortis tenebras, mean "death's darkness." Accordingly, the notes in the tune go down on the staff in the same way the meaning of the words goes downwards to the depths of dark death. So it's interesting that the English moves those words to earlier in the sentence and, with the notes going downward on the staff, has the words "put to flight."

Some of the prophecies that it mentions were fulfilled when Jesus came, "God with us", was born, lived, and gave His life as a ransom for the bondage that we had to sin. Jesus conquered death when He rose from the dead. Many Orthodox Jews who don't believe that Jesus was the Messiah are still waiting for Messiah to come and do this. However, some of the prophecies have not yet been fulfilled, and both Christians and Jews cry out for Christ to come and save us from our bondage. One day Jesus will return and conquer death once and for all. His sacrifice on the cross about 2000 years ago freed us who believe from sin, but as humans, we still suffer temptation and death. Someday that will be no more. Someday, Satan will be flung into the pit of hell where he can't torment and tempt us any more.

So with the Jews of old, I cry out to God:

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

1 comment :

  1. Steven,
    Good explanation and depiction of "Veni,Veni Emmanuel". I appreciated your applications and shared desires of both the Jews and Christians return of their Messiah and our Savior and Lord.