The carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is an English translation of a Latin hymn that is sung during Advent and Christmas. The text goes back to at least the 18th century (and perhaps much earlier) while the music put to it goes back to the 15th century.
“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.”
Emmanuel means, “God with us.” Even before the coming of Christ, we see passages in the Old Testament that remind us that God was with Israel. In 1 Kings 8, we read, “Praise the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, just as he promised. Not one word has failed of all the wonderful promises he gave through his servant Moses. May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us or abandon us.” In Psalm 46, we read that, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
One of the most visible reminders of God’s presence was during the Exodus. God was with the Israelites as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day. His presence was with them in the Tabernacle and later the Temple in the Holy of Holies.
But the most important aspect of Emmanuel is found in the New Testament. John tells us in his gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). This is the miracle of the Incarnation. God put on human flesh and came to Israel so that He might give His life for all of us. Paul writes to Timothy, “Here is the great mystery of our religion: Christ came as a human” (1 Timothy 3:16). This is what we celebrate at Christmas.