Written by Rev. Nicholas Davelaar
From our recently distributed booklet "Christmas Carols and Their Stories"
As its title suggests, when we sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” we invite those who believe in Jesus Christ to come and adore the newborn king. The song leads us in celebrating his birth—the birth of God incarnate—and greeting him with joy.
The opening verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” needs little explaining: it’s a call to those who believe in Jesus to come and behold the newborn King of angels (Rev 19:11-14). The refrain then echoes this call: O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
Borrowing word-for-word from the Nicene Creed, this verse leads us in professing that Jesus Christ is God of God, Light of Light, very (true) God, begotten, not created. And yet, he did not abhor (regard with utter disgust) the Virgin’s womb (Phil 2:6-7)! No, he willingly “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Thus we repeat the call: O come, let us adore him!
Here we urge on the choirs of angels in their praise. At the birth of Jesus they proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14). In this third verse we prod them on in that praise, as we join them in praising God for sending his Son to bring peace on earth, most notably peace through the cross (Eph 2:16). O come, let us praise God and adore his Son!
The fourth verse of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” leads us in speaking to Christ Jesus directly, greeting him as we remember and celebrate the happy morning of his birth. To him is due all glory (Rev 5:12). He is the Word of the Father late (recently) in flesh appearing (John 1:14). O come, let us adore him!
“O Come, All Ye Faithful” is generally credited to an 18th century British man named John Francis Wade, who appears to have written the original four verses in Latin sometime before 1743 and paired them with a tune of his own composing. Later writers added four more verses to Wade’s text, however, thus making the hymn a group project. Frederick Oakeley translated four of those verses into English and published them in 1841. Translations of some of the remaining verses have been published in some hymnals since then, but Oakeley’s four verses remain the perennial favorites.