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Advent Reflection: “Savior of the Nations, Come”

Advent (Latin for “coming”) is the 4-week season of the church year leading up to Christmas.

Martin Luther’s hymn
“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (1524).

Savior of the Nations Come is an Advent hymn originating from the ancient hymn “Veni redemptor gentium,” written by Ambrose, an important 4th century theologian and church doctor. The chant that accompanied this hymn particularly popular in Germany during the Reformation when Martin Luther translated as “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.” J.S. Bach used the tune extensively, including it in several organ preludes and chorales for congregational singing. The basis of the English text was written by Episcopal priest William Morton Reynolds in 1851. The words of Ambrose discuss the mystery incarnation—God becoming human. This was “not by human flesh and blood, [but] by the Spirit of our God.”

Ambrose is often credited with introducing the practice of antiphonal singing (call-and-response) to the Western Church.  Following this tradition, I recently wrote an arrangment of “Savior of the Nations Come” for my handbell ensemble in which one of the verses will be played antiphonally, with the bells and organ playing back and forth in dialogue.

Text

1) Savior of the nations, come,
virgin’s Son, make here thy home!
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.

2) Not of flesh and blood the Son,
offspring of the Holy One;
born of Mary ever blest,
God in flesh is manifest.

3) Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
of the Virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
still to be in heav’n enthroned.

4) From the Father forth he came
and returneth to the same,
captive leading death and hell,
high the song of triumph swell!

5) Thou the Father’s only Son,
hast o’er sin the vict’ry won.
Boundless shall thy kingdom be;
when shall we its glories see?

6) Praise to God the Father sing.
Praise to God the Son, our King.
Praise to God the Spirit be
ever and eternally. 

Reflection Questions:

  • Why is saying “savior of the nations, come” (stanza 1) a hopeful prayer?
  • Why does all “heav’n and earth” (stanza 1) marvel at the coming of Christ?
  • How is the second coming of Christ related to the first? What makes you yearn for the day on which “we its glories see” (stanza 5)?

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