My mother delivered three girls, a boy, me, then two boys, and a baby girl. Born ‘between the boys’, Christmas did not mean dolls for me. I didn’t play with them. My early love of music meant small personal record players to play my ‘old Motown records’. My earliest memories of the little plastic disc that had to fit exactly inside the 45 in order for it to play. And the science of lifting the arm to place it just right at the beginning of the song (without the dreaded scratching) on the LP that you just had to hear over again.
With so much music in me, I thought one year of my favorite Christmas music and polled by email family and friends. Those responding decided that “O Holy Night” sung by anyone is the favorite. With Mariah Carey’s Christmas CD being among my top Five, hearing her with the Hammond organ sound solo accompaniment do ‘O Holy Night’ is so worth repeating. But, when it comes to my most favorite Christmas song, it has to be the message of “O Come, O Come Emanuel”. Most especially after hearing Salem’s (Harlem) Chancel Choir sing this Hymn packed into the split chancel choir loft with pipe organ while serving as Associate Pastor there in the mid eighties. I have often longed for a recording of this as well as the way they chanted the full version of the communion ritual every First Sunday.
As I began to search out it’s meaning, the revelation of this Carol seals it’s place as the number one Christmas song for all the ages. I first discovered that it is believed to have been written in the 9th century and is heralded as the oldest Christmas hymn sung in the Church. Given the facts— the masses were not educated; no printing press for copying and distribution of text; and, the Holy Catholic Church prior to Protestantism. The original ‘Seven verses’ are believed to have been written by a monk or priest whose knowledge of Old Testament Books of The Prophets speaks volumes. Known in Catholicism as ‘The Seven O’s’, it was written in Latin and has been translated, (much like scripture) by many persons across the ages. It is found in more hymnals, the oldest known being the (1861) Hymns Ancient and Modern.
It is the story of the ‘Messianic Hope’ prophesied by Isaiah. It goes beyond the telling of Scripture’s historical life situation and enters the 9th century (‘dark ages’) world of oppression, despair, captivity and hopelessness. It was given to a people to remind them that God promised to send Immanuel! No, that ‘He, Himself would ‘Be with us!’— “O Come, O Come, God, Be With Us!”
O Come, God, Be With Us— ransom captive Israel! That mourns in lowly exile here, Until the son of God appear. As the seven verses became five; lost on the Church is this 2nd verse: “O Come Thou Wisdom from on High, Who ordered all things mightily. To us the Path of Knowledge show, and teach us in it’s Way to go.”
Even through the Translation variants… “O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free… thing own from Satan’s tyranny. From depths of hell Thy people save, And give them victory o’er the grave”.
It is said that this 9th century church sang one verse each days of service leading up to Christmas. Although the chorus (refrain) is not original, it is believed that by the 12th century, you could hear the world Church at Advent sing: “Rejoice, Rejoice Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel”.
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