…that “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was originally known as the “O antiphons”?
Now you probably have a whole new question, what in the world is an antiphon? An antiphon is a verse that is sung in response to part of a liturgy. The closest examples we have in our hymnal are the readings of the Psalms in the back. If you look closely you will see that after reading a section of the Psalm there is a sung response.
The original verses to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” were a series of responses based on the names of Jesus and were usually sung the week before Christmas. They referred to Christ as Wisdom, Adonai, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, King of Nations, and Emmanuel. By taking the first letter of each of these names in Latin and arranging them in reverse order, the monks could spell “Ero Cras”, which means, “Tomorrow, I will come.”
No one really knows who was the original author of the carol we know so well; however, the verses that eventually became “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” were written in the 12th century. By the 15th century, these antiphons had been arranged into the processional hymn “Veni, Veni Emmanuel.” In the late 19th century, the verses were translated from Latin to English and became the carol we know today.
Perhaps most interesting is the meaning of the hymn. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is sung from the point of view of the exiled Jews, who have been humbled and taken into captivity. The good news is that God has declared that He will never again abandon His people – and that includes everyone who trusts in Him. God is there for us when we need Him. “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” reminds us of how blessed we are that Emmanuel has come and we are not abandoned and left to live in exile.