Summary: When we sing hymns and carols like “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” we who are faithful, joyful, and triumphant join with the shepherds and the angels and all the others who are faithful, joyful, and triumphant in praising and adoring our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
On Friday, November 30th, George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the United States went on to be with his Lord and Maker … the Creator of all that seen and unseen … the Eternal President of the Universe. I’m sure he was greeted by family … especially his wife, Barbara, who died on April 17th … and many, many friends and admirers. Karen Tumulty, a reporter for the Washington Post, had this to say about the former President: “The last veteran of World War II to serve as President, he was a consummate public servant and a statesman who help guide the nation and the world out of a four-decade cold war that had carried the threat of nuclear annihilation.” Among his many accomplishments:
He was a decorated Navy pilot
Successful oil company executive
A United Nation’s delegate
Chair of the Republican National Committee
Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Vice-President under Ronald Reagan for eight years.
His body was flown to Washington, DC, on Monday, December 3rd, on Air Force One. He lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda until Wednesday. We probably all saw the viral photo of “Sully,” his service dog lying in front of the President’s casket. He had a state funeral on December 5th. It was attended by the current present, Donald Trump, and four former presidents: Obama; Clinton; his son, George; and Carter. There were many dignitaries, world leaders, movie stars, singers, and professional athletes. His body was then taken to College Station, TX, his adopted state, where he was buried at the George H.W. Bush Library on Thursday, December 6th.
“O come, all ye faithful.” So much ceremony … so much attention … so much praise … so much honor and respect for a former president of the United States. But when his Maker … when our Maker … stepped down from Heaven … well … there was a newly-wed couple … some barnyard animals … and some shepherds who came to adore Him and pay Him respect.
“O come, all ye faith … O come, all ye faithful … O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.” The commands “come” and “adore” are at the very heart of this hymn.
The original title of this hymn was “Adeste Fidelis, Laeti Triumphantes.” “Adeste Fidelis, Laeti Triumphantes” was written by a Roman Catholic layman by the name of John F. Wades. Because of persecution arising from the Jacobite rebellion, streams of Catholics fled to France and Portugal.
How could Wade, a Catholic refugee, support himself while living in exile? He took a job as a music teacher in the famous Roman Catholic College and Ministry Center in Douay, France. He also became a renowned copyist of musical scores. In the mid-1700s, musical scores had to be meticulously copied by hand. It required precision and neatness and Wade’s work was exquisite. When Wade passed away in 1768, his obituary honored him for his “beautiful manuscripts” that adorned chapels and homes. They were considered works of art
In 1745, Wade produced a copy of a Latin Christmas carol beginning with the phrase “adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes.” At one time, historians believed that he had simply discovered an ancient hymn by an unknown author, but most scholars today now believe that Wade himself composed the lyrics.
Wade died in France but when the persecution ended, and the English Catholics began returning to England, they brought Wade’s Christmas carol back to England with them. One day an Anglican minister named Frederick Oakeley, who preached at Margaret Street Chapel in London came across Wade’s Latin Christmas carol. Deeply moved by the beauty of Wade’s carol, Oakeley translated the first line … “adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes” … as “Ye faithful, approach ye” … which didn’t catch on. Several years later, Oakeley tried again. By this time, Oakeley had converted to Catholicism and had become a Catholic priest. His grasp of Latin had improved, so he translated “adeste fidelis, laeti triumphantes” into the more vigorous and well-know “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.”
Now … somethings get lost in translation. This hymn is filled with “imperatives” or “commands” … twenty to be exact. Sixteen of them are “venite” … “come” … or more accurately “you come” … “you” being in the familiar and translated as “ye” in Old English. Some of you may not know this, but “ye” in Old English was the familiar, personal pronoun … like “tu” in Spanish or French. The pronoun “you” in Old English was the polite or formal pronoun … like “usted” in Spanish or “vous” in French. There are three commands to “sing” and one to “behold.”
Then there are the “soft” imperatives. Wade commands … or more accurately “invites” … us to “adore” Christ twelve times. In fact, the refrain starts with a double imperative: “venite adoremus.” Remember “venite” … “you come” … “you” in the personal … followed by “adoremus” … “we adore.” I pray you hear it. “You,” my friend, “come and join with us.” The singular joining with the plural. You, my friend, come and adore Christ the Lord with us! Beautiful use of language, amen?