Dear Waiting People of God:
Some of the best hymns in the Lutheran Service Book are in the Advent Season of the Church Year. The reason for this is simple and can be summarized in the word of the season: Come. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “to come” or “coming.” St. Bernard said of Christ’s Coming: “In the first coming, Christ comes in the flesh and in weakness; in the second, He comes in Spirit and power; in the third, He comes in glory and majesty; and the second coming is the means whereby we pass from the first to the third.”
The season of Advent, and thus the hymns of Advent, revolves around three inter-woven themes found in the Scriptures. In Advent we celebrate Jesus first coming by His incarnation in human flesh to be the Savior from sin and death. In Advent we also prepare and anticipate for Jesus’ second coming in glory as we confess in the Creed: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” For you, the baptized Christian, Jesus’ second coming in glory is good news. We joyfully, and eagerly await His return. And lastly, in Advent we also rejoice, as we are in between Jesus’ first and second advent, that Jesus comes to us here and now with His crucified, risen, and ascended body to be present with us wherever His Word is proclaimed and His Sacraments received.
St. Ambrose, who was bishop of Milan from A.D. 374-397, originally wrote this hymn in Latin. Ambrose, one of the most well known of the early Church Fathers, is renowned for his theological writings, his bold confession of the orthodox confession of faith against the Arians (who falsely taught that there was a time when Jesus was not God), and his influence in the worship life of the Church. This latter point is especially evident in his hymn Savior of the Nations Come.
1523, Dr. Luther translated Ambrose’s hymn from Latin into German. In 1524,
Luther included it in his hymnal known as the Erfurt Enchiridion. It was later translated into English by William
M. Reynolds (1812-1876). Johann Walter, the Cantor in Wittenberg, first wrote
the tune used today in 1524. Since the Reformation, Savior of the Nations, Come has become a standard hymn during the
Advent and Christmas seasons. And it is easy to see why when reading the text:
1) Savior of the Nations, come,
Virgin’s Son, make here Your home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.
2) Not by human flesh and blood,
By the Spirit of our God,
Was the Word of God made flesh –
Woman’s offspring pure and fresh.
3) God the Father was His source,
Back to God He ran His course.
Into hell His road went down,
Back then to His throne and crown.
4) For You are the Father’s Son
Who in flesh the vict’ry won.
By Your might power make whole
All our ills of flesh and soul.
5) Here a maid was found with child,
Yet remained a virgin mild.
In her womb this truth was shown:
God was there upon His throne.
6) Then stepped forth the Lord of all
From His pure and kingly hall;
God of God, yet fully man,
His heroic course began.
7) From the manger newborn light
Shines in glory through the night.
Darkness here no more resides;
In this light faith now abides.
8) Glory to the Father sing,
Glory to the Son, our king,
Glory to the Spirit be
Now and through eternity.
The hymn is an Advent and Christmas sermon all on its own. For in these words we hear the confession of the Christian Faith that we rejoice in during Advent, Christmas, and the whole year: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” Jesus is born as a man for you. And yet Jesus is true God for you. He needed a human nature like yours in order to save you. He needed to be our substitute, to be a perfect man. And He is. Yet, He also needed to be perfect God. As we confess in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made. Ambrose, no doubt, penned these important words, words that are vital to the Christian faith, in response to the Arian heresy that taught that there was a time when Jesus was not true God.
In Advent and during the Christmas season, Savior of the Nations, Come not only gives us a beautiful confession of Christ’s person and work, but that who Jesus is as Savior and what He came to do is for us. Jesus is the Savior of the Nations. He was born for all. He lived a perfect life for all. He died for all. He rose for all. And He will come again for all. And when Jesus does return, He will forever cure all our ills of flesh and soul. As God’s baptized children we live here, in the Light of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection, certainly in Advent, but all year round as well.
In many ways, this hymn is the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds summarized and set to music. It makes a fine devotion because it so succinctly gives you the content of the Christian faith, and superbly delivers the Gospel to you.
Enjoy the hymns of Advent and Christmas. Rejoice in the truth contained there. May the words of Christ in the hymns of this Advent season dwell richly in you as they have for countless Christians who have prayed and sung Savior of the Nations, Come!
Pastor Steven J. Anderson