Hymn Study for Advent: “Saviour of the Nations, Come”
Even before Thanksgiving is over, the world around us starts turning its attention to the Christmas celebration. Many people grow concerned that the holidays are coming quickly. Merchants are hoping that many shoppers come to their stores and that they are in a buying mood. Secular Christmas carols proclaim that Santa Claus is coming to town. We prepare our homes for relatives or friends who may be coming. Many people find that all of these preparations make them feel the effects of stress. Many people cry out, “I’m just not ready!”
But today is the beginning of Advent — the first Sunday of a new Church Year. We turn our attention to a different coming: the coming of Jesus.
How do you prepare when you know that someone you care about is coming to visit?
How can we prepare, both individually and together, for the coming of Jesus?
Exploring the Scriptures
John’s Gospel begins by talking about the coming of Jesus and what this means. We will read this passage on Christmas Day. Anticipating that celebration, read John 1:1 - 14, 18.
What title does John give Jesus? What does he say about Jesus that reveals His divine identity? What things do we receive from Jesus that we can find nowhere else?
Verse 14 speaks of Christ becoming human. The Greek word for “dwelt among us” comes from the word for “tent” or “tabernacle.” What would this have implied to John’s readers (see Exodus 40:34 - 35 and Revelation 21:3)?
How is Jesus the light? What does that mean?
What two reactions to Jesus does John describe? Do we still see these reactions today?
Exploring the Hymn - Background
In the fourth century, a lawyer named Ambrose was appointed Roman consul of Liguria and Aemilia. He moved to Milan, Italy, to take up this appointment, little knowing how his life would soon change. Not long after Ambrose’s arrival, the bishop of Milan died. Since this bishop had sadly allied himself with a group of heretics, there was great concern about who the next bishop should be. While a great crowd was debating what should be done, someone shouted out that Ambrose should be bishop. Though at the time he was a layman and a catechumen, Ambrose was elected as bishop of Milan and compelled to accept the position. He was consecrated bishop just a week after he was baptized.
This zealous man did much for Christianity. He introduced the Eastern Church’s custom of hymn singing into the Western Church and is known as the father of Latin hymnody. He also was very influential in battling Arianism, a heresy that claimed that Jesus was not fully God and not equal with the Father. This was the teaching that had beguiled his predecessor. Because of this concern, and his pastoral heart, Ambrose was very interested in the instruction of the laity. He combined his love of music and theology to craft songs that proclaimed Christian truths simply. His hymn “Savior of the Nations, Come” tells the story of the incarnation of the Son of God, who is truly and fully God.
Nearly 12 centuries later, Martin Luther, like Ambrose, was concerned for the layperson’s understanding. He also joined Ambrose in thinking that music was a powerful tool for education. Luther said that he gave music the “highest place, next to theology” because he saw just what a beautiful and powerful thing it was. Luther probably translated this hymn into German for Advent 1523. His translation appears in the two earliest Lutheran hymnals of 1524.
To this day, Christians from a variety of backgrounds continue to sing this powerful Advent hymn that tells the story of the incarnation in a very straightforward way while reinforcing biblical teaching.
How can music be a powerful tool to help people understand biblical teaching?
What are your favorite Advent hymns? Do these hymns help prepare us to meet our Savior?
This hymn refers to Jesus as the “Virgin’s Son” and the “Woman’s offspring.” He was not conceived in the normal human manner but rather by the Spirit of our God (stanza 2).
Read Isaiah 7:14. How was the birth of Immanuel a sign? Read Luke 1:31, 34. When was this sign truly fulfilled? How do Mary’s words indicate the truly miraculous nature of this event?
“Immanuel” means “God with us.” This hymn picks up the very focused language of the Nicene Creed, calling Jesus “God of God” and also identifying Him as “fully man.” The Creed calls Jesus “God of God” partly to combat the Arian heresy that Ambrose was also fighting against. Read 1 John 5:20. Why was it important to maintain that Jesus is truly God? Read Heb. 2:14–18. Why was it necessary that our Savior be truly human?
Stanzas 3 and 4 of this hymn describe Jesus in kingly terms. A king’s presence transforms the place where he is. So God was on His throne in Mary’s womb (stanza 3), and she was God’s “pure and kingly hall” (stanza 4). Read Luke 1:42–44. When did the incarnation of Jesus begin? Why is this important? What does this suggest about the beginning of human life?
Stanza 7 describes Christ as the light shining in the darkness. Read Matthew 4:16 and Luke 2:32. Who is that light for? What effect does it have in the world?
Making the Connection
Jesus, the Son of God, was born in Bethlehem and is called the king of the Jews. But God’s eternal plan included more than the Jews. It was for all peoples. Read Isaiah 49:6 and Acts 26:23.
What does Isaiah say is “too light a thing”? Why?
How is Jesus the Savior of the nations? How will these nations hear of His work?
We prepare for many things in this season, but the most important thing is to prepare to meet Jesus, our Savior and King. He is the Saviour of the nations — and He is our Saviour. By faith we now live in His light and rejoice in His gifts.
Sing or read LSB 332, “Saviour of the Nations, Come.”
Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
~ Study by Steven P. Mueller