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Wednesday, December 21, 2016
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.
From God’s heart the Savior speeds;
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.
Ambrose of Milan’s “Savior of the Nations, Come”
(tune: Nun Komm, Der Heiden Heiland)
from Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal
Looking for a deeper experience of Advent, I’m drawn to hymns like this that transcend the centuries, reminding us of the impact of a lowly birth nearly 2500 years ago.
The writer of today’s hymn, Ambrose, was born in Trier, Germany, c. 340 A.D. By the time he was in his early thirties, he’d achieved career, financial, and societal success. It was a tumultuous time in the church and in the world when Ambrose opted, reluctantly, for a different definition of success. For the rest of his life, Ambrose led the church, served the poor, and helped all people embrace a vision of unity and wholeness in God’s light and love.
Ambrose composed hymns to lead participatory, faithful worship. Many of his hymns have maintained relevance through the years. Martin Luther was inspired by this hymn, seeing in it a model of dignified simplicity. J. S. Bach also found inspiration in Ambrose’s “Savior of the Nations.”
Listening to the petition in the first line, “Savior of the Nations, come!” I can imagine Ambrose and his congregation reflecting upon the problems and divisions of the time. Today we too face complex and pervasive problems and divisions. We need God’s power and guidance. As the hymn continues, we sense longing transformed to amazement. Jesus’ birth set something powerful in motion. It is because God shared our human experience, loving us, defending us, and showing us the way, that we can imagine and try to embody his love and promise to be a new, whole people. Oh, the gift of that lowly birth—Emmanuel, God with us!
Lord, remind me again of the story of your birth, that I might be filled with the promise, the wonder, the love, and the calling of Christmas. Amen.
Written by Laura Sterkel, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
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