December 15, 2019: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel by Bobby Stubbs

By Bobby Stubbs

Growing up, my family observed Advent by lighting a home Advent wreath, singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and praying from a devotional booklet, every evening before dinner for the entire season.

Our parish sang that same hymn annually as the opening processional for all four Sundays of Advent. A different family was selected to light the parish wreath during this hymn each Sunday, and I can still vividly remember mine having that privilege when I was in third grade. 

At Westminster Choir College, where I studied as an undergrad, the student body has a Christmas concert every year, which always includes English composer Andrew Carter’s arrangement of the aforementioned hymn. Carter’s version deeply renewed my appreciation for “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and left such a lasting impression that I started using it at All Souls last year. This year we sang the beloved hymn on Advent 1, and will again on Advent 4, bookending the season. I have other favorite Advent hymns, including “On Jordan’s Bank,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” and “Creator of the Stars of Night.” But “Veni Emmanuel” is still my favorite of all. The verse that speaks to me the most as I reflect on it this year is: “O come, Desire of nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind; bid thou our sad divisions cease, and be thyself our King of Peace.”


While pursuing my masters at Indiana University, I worked as the organist at a parish located a ninety-minute drive away (as one does when attending school with nearly 50 fellow organ majors). The congregation was always kind to me, and I met some of my spiritual role models there. With that said, I did not personally care for how they preferred to sing Christmas carols throughout Advent. I do not mean to put down that parish, but the experience did help me realize that distinguishing Advent from Christmas genuinely matters to me, and that singing Advent-specific hymns is a vital part of how I invite Christ to be born in my heart year after year. 

I am grateful to have the opportunity to continue this practice in the company of my faith community at All Souls. Whether you sing them with gusto or listen and pray with them quietly, I invite everyone to join me in savoring the wealth of Advent hymns we sing and the spiritual nourishment they have to offer. There is so much in these Advent hymns for us to savor.

Last Published: December 12, 2019 4:21 PM
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