Tag Archives: O Come O Come Emmanuel

. . . That Mourns In Lonely Exile . . .

Dear Family & Friends,

My Guest Blogger today is my daughter, Haley Stewart.  You can find her blog at:  Carrots for Michaelmas.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel has always been my favorite carol.  I love the ancient chant-like melody and the images it conjures: monks singing by candlelight and waiting to celebrate the coming of the Light of the World, while a cold, dark winter lingers on.  It has many beautiful verses but the first and most familiar is:

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

It is, of course, a particularly fitting verse for Advent, when we prepare for the coming of Our Lord. This Advent, I have come to understand better what it means because it’s been a dark Advent. In November, dear friends lost a child at birth. Their incomprehensible grief and the loss we have all experienced, as we miss their daughter we will never have the opportunity to know, made the uncertainty of this life more present.  We are not guaranteed lives free of pain, in fact, quite the opposite.  We wait in exile.  And in exile there is grief.  So I have struggled with the darkness of our exile.  How do we live in a world of grief, pain, and uncertainty?  How do we love those around us, knowing that we might lose them? What does it mean to wait for Jesus?

St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes of three Advents:

One is in the past: Christ was born to the Blessed Virgin Mary, when God Incarnate came to rescue the world.

One is in the present:  Now is the time to prepare our hearts for Christ’s dwelling.

And one is in the future:  Christ will come again in glory.

During the Advent season, I usually only consider the past Advent, Christ’s Nativity.  After all, it’s complete and all that I need to do is remember what has happened and celebrate, on Christmas morning, what Our Lord has done. The other two Advents require more of me.  How do I prepare my heart for the Son of God to enter it?  And perhaps even more difficult:  How can I bear waiting for Christ’s return, in exile, amidst grief, pain, and uncertainty?

In the Advent carol, the first step is to long for Christ.  O come, O come, Emmanuel, God with us.  We long for Him because we have come to understand the difficult reality of our situation. Until we realize that placing our security in anything of this life is fruitless, we will not be able to long for Christ as we ought.  We are captives in this exile and we must understand our helplessness and need of a Savior.

I remember Zechariah, who was struck dumb during the miraculous pregnancy of his aging and previously barren wife, Elizabeth. Waiting. Yearning for new life as he anticipated the birth of his son, John the Baptist.  And ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here . . . Our exile.  It seems very dark.  But we have been given a gift, a promise that our exile will not last forever.  We have been given hope.  And our hope is a Living Hope —  for it is Christ himself. What makes the darkness and the waiting and the pain bearable is that it will come to an end. Zechariah will speak at the end of nine months.  A woman in labor will not be in pain forever.  Until the Son of God appear . . . In the darkness of our exile, we wait in joyful hope because He is coming.  He HAS come.  And He IS here.  Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.  The redemption of the world has happened in the Incarnation, it is happening in us and in the world  it will be fulfilled and completed.

How can we bear our exile?  I think I am learning that the answer is hope. With hope, we can say with Lady Julian of Norwich, even through our grief . . .And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.


Hail, Holy Queen, mother of mercy:

Hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;

to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us;

and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.

That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

[Written by Haley Susan Stewart, Advent 2010; posted Advent 2011.]

Leave a comment

Filed under Advent, Christmas Eve

Advent Lesson Seven: The Veiled Crux

Dear Family & Friends,

Recently, I posted the lyrics to the hymn, “Veni, Veni Emmanuel.”   It is one of my favorite hymns, not only for the achingly beautiful tune but also for the depth of meaning of the text.  For, if hymns are “theology set to music,” then we should consider only those hymns that are informed by rich, deep, solid, orthodox, classic, creedal, ancient Trinitarian theology.

Scripture must inform the hymns, certainly.  However, some hymns go a step further:  They encapsulate a view of Scripture that sees the “Big Picture:”  They carefully and faithfully encompass a composite view of a topic, skillfully pulling together essential Scriptures and subsuming them under the great themes of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.  [This is “systematic theology.”]

The hymn below, from a poem by Richard Wilbur, is a particularly fine example.

During Advent, read, study, meditate on the two hymns:  Veni, Veni Emmanuel and A Christmas Hymn.  Critique how the authors use the compositions to masterfully enlarge our view of Advent.  They each give us  “vision tools” to understand what I call the “Veiled Crux” of Advent.

We are too easily satisfied with a kaleidoscope, through which to view Advent:  lots of bright and shiny fragments of color collide, displaying a different pattern every time we shake and turn the cylinder.  Although the patterns are entertaining, we can see no further than the end of the cylinder.

These two hymns, instead, give us the clarity of a long-range telescope, through which to view the “Grand Drama of Redemption.”

Ancient navigators called the Southern Star the “Crux.”  With celestial navigation, travelers must focus on one bright star [either the Southern Star or the Northern Star] because they are unchanging–immovable.  I am attempting here, through this series of Advent Lessons, to offer us reliable tools with which to navigate Advent.

I cannot specify what decisions to make, as regards ordering personal time and space.  I can, however, challenge us “modern navigators” to consider the tools with which we have previously been viewing Advent.  Some of us have used a magnifying glass:  We have focused on the minute details of the Season of Advent, we are overwhelmed, and we have lost sight of the “Big Picture.”

It is time to use new tools to travel!  I advise the use of a Compass and a Map, with which to navigate.  Chart your course and do not deviate.  Do not get distracted by “bright and shiny things.”  Lift up your head and look up to the vast skies:  Locate the North Star, the Polar Star and travel under it’s authoritative guidance.  Do not lose sight of the “Big Picture.”

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How do these hymns unveil the “Crux of Advent:”
  • What is the Crux [the focal point, the center, the most important element] of Advent?  
  • What significant historical events do these hymns review for us? 
  • Veni, Veni, Emmanuel:  What is the significance of Israel’s history of salvation? 
  • What does Wilbur mean:  “the worlds are reconciled?” 

Coram Deo,



A Christmas Hymn

Words:  Richard Wilbur [born 1921]

Music:  Andujar, David Hurd [born 1950]

And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, “Master, rebuke the disciples.”

And he answered and said unto them, “I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.”


A stable-lamp is lighted

Whose glow shall wake the sky;

The stars shall bend their voices,

And every stone shall cry.

And every stone shall cry,

And straw like gold shall shine;

A barn shall harbor heaven,

A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city

Shall ride in triumph by;

The palm shall strew its branches,

And every stone shall cry.

And every stone shall cry,

Though heavy, dull and dumb,

And lie within the roadway

To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,

And yielded up to die;

The sky shall groan and darken,

And every stone shall cry.

And every stone shall cry,

For stony hearts of men:

God’s blood upon the spearhead,

God’s love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,

The low is lifted high;

The stars shall bend their voices,

And every stone shall cry.

And every stone shall cry,

In praises of the Child

By whose descent among us

The worlds are reconciled.

[Richard Wilbur, born 1921, is an American poet and literary translator.  He was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1987.  He twice received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry:  1957 and 1989.]


Filed under Advent