If you want to learn the song, you can sing along with piano accompaniment here.
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” is too Scripturally-rich to not be one of the favorite Advent hymns of Reformed churches. It addresses the majestic titles of Christ used throughout Scriptures. And although the tune is a somber chant, a refrain that bursts into a joyful “Rejoice!” was added later on.
This Advent hymn may have been used by 5th century Jewish Christians, since most of the themes are from the Old Testament. In the 9th century, the hymn was incorporated by the medieval church for use during Advent. During the week before Christmas Day, seven “Great ‘O’ Antiphons,” each of them in praise and wonderment (“O”) of an Old Testament name for the coming Messiah, were chanted.
In the 13th century, these antiphons were put in Latin hymn form, “Veni, Emmanuel,” and the “Rejoice” refrain was added. In Latin, the seven antiphons formed an acrostic from the opening words:
“O Sapienta” (Wisdom): In Christ are found “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Cl 2:3).
“O Adonai” (Lord of Might): He is called “Mighty God” (Is 9:6).
“O Radix Jesse” (Root of Jesse): After the kingdom of David, Jesse’s son, was cut down to a mere stump, Messiah will come and rebuild it into a kingdom made up of Jews and Gentiles (Is 11:1, 10).
“O Clavis David” (Key of David): The Son of David will have the authority to open and shut heaven’s gate (Is 22:22).
“O Oriens” (Light of the East): As the bright Morning Star and Dayspring, the Messiah will give light to all who walk in darkness (Nm 24:17; Is 9:2; John 8:12).
“O Rex gentium” (King of Nations): At last, when he returns, he will reign as King of Kings, and Lord of Lords (Is 9:6; Rv 19:16).
“O Emmanuel” (God With Us): He came down from heaven to dwell with us (Jn 1:14). And he will return to take us to his dwelling-place forever (Rv 21:3).
When read backwards, S-A-R-C-O-R-E becomes Ero Cras (“I will be there tomorrow”), anticipating the arrival of Jesus on Christmas Day, God’s answer to the petition, “O come, O come, Emmanuel.” So the verse we usually sing as the first was actually the climactic last of the seven antiphons sung on Christmas Eve.
But the use of the hymn did not became widespread until Thomas Helmore (1811-90), and John M. Neale (1818-66), both Anglican priests and musicians, published an English translation with a four-part harmonization in 1854.
1 O come, O come, Immanuel, 1
and ransom captive Israel 2
that mourns in lonely exile here 3
until the Son of God appear. 4
1 Is 7:14; Mt 1:21-23; 2 Is 35:10; 1Pt 1:18-19; 3 Is 66:10; 4 Lk 1:35; Tit 2:11-13
Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
shall come to you, O Israel. 5
5 Is 59:20; Is 66:10
2 O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who ordered all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show
and teach us in its ways to go. 6 Refrain.
6 Is 11:2; 1Co 1:24, 30
3 O come, O come, great Lord of might, 7
who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
in ancient times did give the law
in cloud and majesty and awe. 8 Refrain
7 Deu 10:17; 1Ti 6:15; 8 Ex 19:16-20
4 O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem,
unto your own and rescue them! 9
From depths of hell your people save,
and give them victory o’er the grave. 10 Refrain
9 Is 11:1, 10; Mt 16:18; Ro 15:12; 10 1Co 15:54-55
5 O come, O Key of David, come
and open wide our heavenly home. 11
Make safe for us the heavenward road 12
and bar the way to death’s abode. 13 Refrain
11 Is 22:22, Rv 3:7; 12 Jn 14:6; Hb 10:19-20; 13 Rv 1:18
6 O come, O Bright and Morning Star, 14
and bring us comfort from afar! 15
Dispel the shadows of the night
and turn our darkness into light. 16 Refrain
14 Nm 24:17; Mt 2:2; Rv 22:16; 1 Jn 1:5; Rv 22:5; 15 Is 40:1; Lk 2:25;
16 Is 9:2; 42:6; 49:6; 60:2-3; Mal 4:2; Lk 1:78-79; Jn 8:12
7 O come, Desire of the nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind. 17
Bid all our sad divisions cease
and be yourself our King of Peace. 18 Refrain
17 Je 10:7, Jn 17:20-23 ; Rv 15:4; 18 Is 9:6-7; Lk 1:79; 2:14; Ac 10:36; Ro 5:1
According to the Psalter Hymnal Handbook, Veni Immanuel was originally composed for a Requiem Mass in a 15th century French Franciscan Processional. Thomas Helmore adapted this chant tune and published it in Part II of The Hymnal Noted in 1854. Allmusic.com describes the tune as “a modal chant, often performed in its two-voice version. Like most early antiphons, the melody is primarily syllabic, with a very even rhythm, and moving within a limited range, the largest interval being a fourth.”
“O come, o come, Emmanuel (Veni, veni, Emmanuel), carol” by Patsy Morita
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” by Jennifer Woodruff Tait