O come o come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
Who mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of God appear
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Monks used to perform O antiphons in the 8th Century, relating the prophecy of the coming of the Messiah. In the 12th century, one of the antiphons, which referred to the Messiah as Emanuel, was adapted into a poem Veni, Veni Emmanuel. The words were united with a Franciscan funeral hymn, heavily influenced by a Gregorian chant, written in the 15th Century. By the 19th Century, John Mason Neale translated the Latin lyrics into English and the modern day carol was performed for the first time. Neale's version was published in Hymni Ecclesiae in 1851.
Unlike later Christmas songs which highlight the lighter part of Christmas (Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town), early Christmas carols (It Came Upon a Midnight Clear) focus on the fight between God and the Enemy. A later version of O Come O Come Emmanuel mentions: "Free thine from Satan's tyranny." How ironic that our mighty Saviour comes in the form of a helpless baby.