O Come All Ye Faithful is a New Year’s Song
O Come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord.
That’s the refrain from the 18th century hymn, Adeste Fidelis, written in Latin by the English Catholic John Francis Wade in or around the year 1743. Wade left England soon after to escape religious persecution of Catholics in England. Over a generation later, Adeste Fidelis was translated by Frederick Oakeley, a prominent figure in the Oxford Movement, which was generally a call amongst Oxford graduates and religious scholars of the 1840s to return to some of the older, Catholic religious and spiritual practices in worship. Ultimately his desire to reform Anglican worship was rejected and he was strongly encouraged to leave his post as Minister of Margaret Chapel in London. He became Canon of the Pro-Cathedral of the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical district of Westminster. His translation of Wade’s text has resulted in a wide dissemination of this beloved and, I think we can say, ultimately ecumenical text.
The hymn itself deals with some fairly common ideas: Jesus was born, becoming a human, he was fully human and fully God. Theologically, that’s not particularly unique as many Advent and Christmas hymns speak of this particular mystery of our faith. What makes it special I think, is the repetition of “O come let us adore him.” It is a simple thing to say or sing, but when we look to embody that text, we quickly see how unsimple it can be to ‘adore Christ’.
This year, our most ubiquitous and baseline time for adoration has been taken away from us: communal, in person worship. Our opportunities to be in close contact with one another, to love God and love our neighbor in tangible, easy to see and act ways has been suspended. We are forced to adapt and look for new ways to adore. I think we’re also called right now to look inward and ask ourselves important questions: how do I actually show and live my love of God? How do I adore God? What is adoration ultimately, anyway?
Unfortunately (you might say), I’m not here to answer those questions. Although O Come All Ye Faithful started out as an affirmation of Roman Catholicism (I can easily imagine men like Wade and Oakeley perhaps feeling a certain self-righteousness in calling “All Ye Faithful” to worship–Catholic worship and the Catholic faithful), it’s now published in over 600 hymnals from the 1850s on. This reminder from the 18th century, to ‘adore Christ the Lord’, isn’t just applicable to us at Christmas time. I hope it will be our goal and litmus test this next year, too. Viewing our lives as ways to (re)orient ourselves toward Christ will, I think, broaden our adoration from what we do only on Sunday mornings to how we live and act the rest of the week.
I wish you all the blessings of the New Year, and look forward to the time when we can gather and sing our adoration in the same place, all together. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.