There have been untold thousands (more like millions) of hymns written in the Christian Church throughout the centuries. Of those, just a small percentage have stood the test of time and are still sung today. This month we’ll study one of the great ancient hymns of the Church. “Savior of the Nations, Come” comes from the fourth century A.D. and the text is attributed to St. Ambrose of Milan (340-397). Ambrose was one of the great Latin church fathers (so-called because he wrote in Latin) and was bishop of Milan from 374-397. He battled the Arian heresy, which attacked the divinity of Christ and said “there was a time when He [Jesus Christ] was not,” meaning that He was a created being. This hymn is full of vibrant Christology, proclaiming the truth of Christ’s full divinity and full humanity in a time when the Arian heresy was very popular.
The text of the hymn, originally written in Latin, comes to us through the German language by way of Martin Luther (1483-1546). Luther first published it in a hymnal in 1524. Our English translation is based on an English translation by William M. Reynolds (1812-1876) with some modifications. The tune, NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND, is based on a 12th or 13th century plainsong, which Luther then simplified and adapted into what we have today.
Savior of the nations, come, Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heaven and earth, That the Lord chose such a birth.
We should indeed marvel that the Son of God would choose to condescend to us and be born as a human. No self-respecting god in the Norse, Greek, or Roman pantheon would ever do such a thing. Yet the only-begotten Son of the one true God did just that, all because of His great love for us. So marvel, o Christian, that your Creator chose to become like His creation, a creation that had rejected Him and would do so throughout His entire earthly life. That is love!
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.
We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus was “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” The Nicene Creed similarly says Jesus was “incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” Christ did not come to earth against His will, but willingly. He knew what He was getting Himself into and yet He came anyway.
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.
Elizabeth called Mary “blessed” in Luke 1:42, and so too the Church has called her throughout the centuries, often calling her the Blessed Virgin Mary. This can be taken too far, certainly, to the point that some lose sight of why Mary is blessed. But Elizabeth says more in Luke 1:42: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Mary is blessed because God chose for her to be the Jesus’ mother. The Church has historically called her Theotokos, which means “Mother of God” in Greek and that is completely true. In confessing Mary as “Mother of God,” we are confessing the full divinity of Jesus Christ, a vital doctrine of Christianity. So, let us continue to honor Mary, not because of anything special about her, and not taking it to the extremes that some Christians have throughout the centuries, but because God chose to bring Jesus into the world through her.
Then stepped forth the Lord of all From His pure and kingly hall; God of God, yet fully man, His heroic course began.
From His conception to His death, Christ was here on earth for one purpose: to save His people from their sins. Even as an infant in a manger His course was set and the cross was in His sights. From the time of His birth His eyes were set towards Jerusalem and the death He would die on Mount Calvary for our sins, as well as His triumph over the grave on the third day.
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.
This language echoes the words of the Apostles’ Creed so well and in fact it summarizes the second article very nicely. Christ came from God, did His work, which included proclaiming his victory to those in hell, and then rose on the third day, and ascended to the right hand of the Father forty days later. His mission is complete, “it is finished.”
For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the victory won. By Your mighty power make whole All our ills of flesh and soul.
This stanza serves as a prayer to Christ and follows the form of the various collects of the day that we use. It addresses Christ as the Father’s Son (“For You are the Father’s Son”), it gives the reason why we’d pray to Him (“Who in flesh the victory won”), and then brings the petition to Christ (“By Your mighty power make whole All our ills of flesh and soul”). All that is missing is the termination, “for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen,” which we do actually get in the final stanza. This stanza is also a wonderful confession of the absolute confidence we, as Christians, can have in Christ, for He does indeed cure all our ills, for in the Resurrection on the Last Day we will no longer have our sinful bodies, but will live eternally in our perfect bodies in the presence of Christ.
From the manger newborn light Shines in glory through the night. Darkness there no more resides; In this light faith now abides.
From the most unlikely place, a crude wooden manger in the small town of Bethlehem, comes the Light that shines in the darkness, a Light which no darkness can ever overcome. There is no time or place this Light cannot reach. He gives us His Life, and that Life is the Light for all humankind. We live in the Light of Christ and we look forward to the Day when, around the throne of God, Christ will be the Light and darkness will be no more. Then we will sing praises to God forever and ever.
Glory to the Father sing, Glory to the Son, our king, Glory to the Spirit be Now and through eternity.
The praises we will sing in eternity we begin here on earth as we sing one final doxology to the Triune God who gives us everything we need for this body and life, as well as the life to come. Amen! Yes, yes, it shall be so!