Hymn of the Month


O Come, O Come, Immanuel

In the past few years Advent has become my favorite liturgical season. Why? Because there is nothing more exciting to me than anticipating a great event such as the birth of Christ. "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" anticipates the celebration of Christmas and implores God to be among us always.

I remember singing "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" as a child and wondering why we were "waiting" for an event to happen that had already happened two thousand years ago. That questioning began my interest in Advent as a season separate from Christmas.

This traditional Advent hymn has roots all the way back to a community of Jewish Christians in the fifth century. It was probably part of the Hanukkah festival, with its remembrance of wilderness wandering, darkness and death as well as light, and the keystone of the temple. Above all, the exclamation (O!) expressed these people's hope for the return of Jesus. In the ninth century, the text entered the Roman liturgy for use during Advent.

Each Latin stanza began by addressing the Messiah with a different scriptural title, such as "O Emmanuel" (God is with us), or "O Sapienta" (Wisdom). Because of this, the hymn is historically known as "The O Antiphons" or "The Great O's."

John Mason Neale (1818-1866) translated and published the first English translation of the "Great O's" in his collection of hymns, Hymnal Noted, 1854. The tune veni immanuel, adapted by Thomas Helmore from the fifteenth-century Processionale, also first appeared in this collection. The tune has been associated with this text ever since.

Neale was an ordained priest who translated and published many Greek and Latin hymns. (He is the translator of the Christmas hymns "Of the Father's Love Begotten" and "Good Christian Friends, Rejoice" as well as the Lenten hymn "All Glory, Laud, and Honor.") Thomas Helmore (1811-1890) was musical editor of Neale's translations, and it was Helmore who found the Processionale and adapted it to fit Neale's "Draw Nigh, Draw Nigh, Emmanuel." This translation of "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" is a composite of Neale's and the many other English translations made since 1854.

"O Come, O Come, Immanuel" addresses the coming Messiah differently in each stanza, just as it does in Latin. We have the beautiful images of the Messiah as "Wisdom," "Bright and Morning Star," "Key of David," "Lord of Might," and "Branch of Jesse's Stem." Each stanza closes with a petition to the Messiah based on the title: "O Wisdom ... to us the path of knowledge show," or "Morning Star.. . dispel the shadows of the night." Look closely at all the verses.

"O Come, O Come, Immanuel" is a wonderful guide to the season of Advent.

A congregation can focus on this hymn during the month of Advent in a number of ways:
—Use the hymn as a sermon: alternate readings from Scripture that correspond to each stanza with the singing of that stanza (see p. 37).
—Sing one stanza each week of Advent after the Salutation and before the Prayer of Confession.
—Have the choir sing the refrain as an introduction to the stanza.
—Have handbells ring randomly during the singing of the hymn. As with most plainsong melodies, this creates an appropriate ethereal effect. Have the bells begin, wait a moment, line the melody out in a soft stop on the organ, and then have the congregation join in. Organists will want to look at Wilbur Held's setting of veni immanuel for a prelude or offertory, which appears in "A Nativity Suite" published by Concordia (97-4461). This setting is moderately easy and has a nice contrast of reeds playing "Rejoice! Rejoice!" and flutes playing the melody. It ends softly with the last part of the refrain reminding us of the opening phrase.

There is no more popular Advent hymn than "O Come, O Come, Immanuel," and it is one of the few hymns that keeps this season from being entirely eclipsed by Christmas on the radio. We need this hymn to help us anticipate the coming celebration of Christ's birth.


Sing Praise to God

"Sing Praise to God" is a hymn about redemption, praise to God, and comfort. While not a metrical psalm, this hymn is based on Psalm 91, a psalm of assurance of God's protection.

"Sing Praise" first appeared in Johann Jacob Schiitz's Christliches Gedenckbuch-lein, 1675. Schiitz (1640-1690) studied law at Tubingen and practiced at Frankfurt. (An interesting note: Schiitz participated in the company that purchased land in Germantown, Pennsylvania, from William Penn in 1683.) The present translation, though altered slightly, is by Frances Elizabeth Cox (1812-1897). Not much is known about her life other than that she published one volume of hymn translations from the German. "Sing Praise to God" comes from the second edition of her Hymns from the German, 1864.

The tune MIT FREUDEN ZART has a more interesting history. The tune we use comes from the Bohemian Brethren's Kirchengesange darinnen die Heubtartickel des Christlichen Glaubens gefasset, 1566. But it bears a remarkable resemblance to a French secular song from 1529, "Une pastourelle gentille." And if you compare it with Psalter Hymnal 138, Genevan 138 from the Genevan Psalter of 1551, you will also notice quite similar musical phrases. It is clear that the Brethren used one or the other of these pieces as their source, making only a few melodic and rhythmic alterations.

On one or more Sundays in January, try singing the hymn as a congregation, with the sopranos singing the accompanying descant (p. 38) on the fourth verse. Then, to conclude your month of singing the hymn together, consider using a concertato. GIA has a moderately difficult festive arrangement of this hymn for congregation and choir, using organ or piano, brass quartet, and timpani (GIA-G-2972).

This hymn of praise is appropriate on many occasions throughout the church year. "Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above" has a resounding refrain we can sing all year long: "to God all praise and glory!"



The long season of Epiphany this year allows us to celebrate Black History month at the same time. The spiritual "Amen" is an appropriate hymn for that combination: an African-American chant combined with a solo about the life of Jesus. The solo is a concise history: Jesus as a baby, as a child in the temple, in his ministry, at the Garden of Gethsemane, crucified, and risen from the grave.

This piece was arranged by Richard Smallwood for Lift Every Voice and Sing, a collection of Afro-American songs produced by The Church Hymnal Corporation (800 Second Ave., New York, NY 10017). Smallwood (b. 1948) is a gospel performer and composer in the Washington D.C. area. His Richard Smallwood Singers have made several recordings of gospel music, including his own compositions.

Take this piece at a good tempo: it should have the feel of 2/2.1 prefer to accompany spirituals such as this one on the piano, with a bit of swing, doubling the bass note an octave lower. It's much easier for me to do justice to a spiritual on the piano than on the organ.

Have the choir perform this piece alone the first week. Choose a strong voice for the soloist or choose a section of the choir to sing the solo parts together. Make sure the choir is energetic when singing, and keep the accompaniment energetic as well.

Use "Amen" as a congregational hymn the following week, with the same person or section as soloist. Try using the "Amens" alone after the benediction. Start softly, have the congregation join in, and repeat the refrain a number of times. Improvise on the piano to generate enthusiasm in the singing, and don't let the Amens end too soon!


Immanuel, our King and Lawgiver, the desire of the Nations and their salvation:

Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel" stanza 1
(PH 9, PsH 328, RL 184, TH 194)

Scripture: Isaiah 8:6-10

Prayer: O Immanuel, Child of Promise and Sign of hope, you come from a distance far beyond our reach, yet to be closer to us than we are to ourselves: remain with us in our own days of expectation that we may give birth to what is just, true, beautiful and good; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, abides with us, one God now and forever. Amen.

Hymn: "Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus"
(PH 1, 2; PsH 329; RL 183; TH 196)

Wisdom, who came forth from | the mouth of the Most High, 'reaching from one end of the earth to another, ordering all things mightily and sweetly:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come, Immanuel"
stanza 2

Scripture: Jeremiah 10:12-16

Prayer: O Wisdom, your words uttered in the beginning generated a world of beauty and goodness, giving purpose and value to each creature; instruct us in the way of prudence that we may nurture the world with justice and joy. Help us to resist evil and to obey you, that we may walk in your ways, so that the beauty of your creation may flourish; through the one whom we know as the Wisdom of the Ages, even Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: "Of the Father's Love Begotten"
(PH 309, PsH342, RL 191, TH 162)

Adonai, ruler of the house | of Israel, who appeared to 'Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Mount Sinai:

Come, and with your outstretched arm redeem us.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come Immanuel"
stanza 3

Scripture: Exodus 3:1-9

Prayer: O Lord of Might, Master of the universe and ruler of the house of Israel, your mighty acts have rescued remnants of your people from the midst of slavery, exile, war and holocaust: raise your scepter over us that your saving rule may be extended to all people, in all places; for the sake of him whom we know as Lord of all, even Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Hymn: "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light"
(PH 26, PsH 343)

Root of Jesse, who stands as an ensign to the peoples; before whom kings shall keep silence and all nations bow in worship:

Come and save us, and do not delay.

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-9

Hymn: "O Come, O Come Immanuel"
stanza 4

Prayer: O Root of Jesse, you reach deep down into the darkness of the earth and stir the world's longings for deliverance and hope: raise up within our own lives a spirit of courage and strength, of wisdom and insight, that we may do your work for the coming of your kingdom; through the merits of the one we know as the beginning of the ages, even Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
(PH 48, PsH 351, RL 204, TH 221)

Key of David, Scepter of the house of Israel, you open and no one closes; you close and no one opens:

Come and deliver from prison all captives who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come Immanuel"
stanza 5

Scripture: Revelation 3:7-13

Prayer: O Key of David and throne of glory, you open the way to the future and no one closes; you close the way to the past and no one opens. Release us and all your people from the oppressions of the past that we may face the future with boldness and purpose; through the merits of the Son of David, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: "Once in Royal David's City"
(PH 49, PsH 346, RL 201, TH 225)

Bright and Morning Star, Brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of righteousness:

Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come Immanuel"
stanza 6

Scripture: 2 Peter 1:16-19

Prayer: O Rising Dawn, you shine with warm brightness and clean freshness, chasing the fearsome shadows of the night away: enlighten the lives of your people with visions of shalom, until you bring all things into the harmony of your kingdom; for the sake of him we call the Light of the world, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: "How Bright Appears the Morning Star"
(PsH 357)

King of nations and the Desire of nations, cornerstone that binds two into one:

Come and deliver us whom you formed from the dust of the earth.

Hymn: "O Come, O Come Immanuel"
stanza 7

Scripture: Haggai 2:2-10

Prayer: O King of nations, your reign spreads through all the lands, you defend the cause of the poor and plead for the wretched of the earth. Fashion us into an obedient people, that we may spread the good news of your reign of perfect peace and justice, until all creation will finally rejoice in your perfect will, until all bend the knee to the King of kings and Lord of lords, in whose name we pray, even Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior. Amen.

Hymn: Joy to the World
(PH 40, PsH 337, RL 198, TH 195)

Adapted from two services, one by Robert H. Busch, organist ofFlatbush Church of the Redeemer, in Brooklyn, New York, and one by W. Thomas Smith, executive director of the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.

All hymn suggestions are taken from the most recent editions of the following hymnals: The Presbyterian Hymnal (PH), Psalter Hymnal (PsH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and the Trinity Hymnal (TH).


March: "How I Love You, Lord My God" (Psalm 18) ABERYSTWYTH
April: "Jesus Lives, and So Do We" JESUS, MEINE ZUVERSICHT
May: "All Creatures of Our God and King" LASST UNS ERFREUN
June: "God of the Prophets" TOULON

David Schaap is president and founder of Selah Publishing Co., director of music at St. John's Episcopal Church in Kingston, N.Y., and a consultant to the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.


Reformed Worship 21 © September 1991, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.