A hymn, a poem & a bunch of Advent Devotionals

Advent and Triumph of Christ by Hans Memling

I sang the following hymn at a recent Vespers Service at Duke Chapel. As we moved from verse to verse I had two thoughts. One, why hadn't I sung this hymn before and, two, when can I sing it again? It's one of those theologically rich and poetically elegant hymns that deserves a prominent place in the church's worship during the Advent season.

I also wouldn't mind hearing a contemporary songwriter render it in a new musical style (like this [thank you, Bruce] and like this [thank you, Greg]), including pop-rock or symphonic rock or global music.

"Savior of the Nations, Come"

The words are by St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan (339-397 AD), translated into the German by Martin Luther in 1523, and then from Ger­man to En­glish by Will­iam M. Rey­nolds in 1851. The music comes from Jo­hann Wal­ther (Wit­ten­berg, Ger­ma­ny, 1524), while the har­mo­ny was scored by Jo­hann S. Bach.

Savior of the nations, come;
Virgin’s Son, here make Thy home!
Marvel now, O heaven and earth,
That the Lord chose such a birth.

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.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child
Of the virgin undefiled!
Though by all the world disowned,
Still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth He came
And returneth to the same,
Captive leading death and hell
High the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father’s only Son,
Hast over sin the victory won.
Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;
When shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth Thy manger shine,
Glorious is its light divine.
Let not sin o’ercloud this light;
Ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,
Praise to God the Son, our King,
Praise to God the Spirit be
Ever and eternally.

The following is a poem by Malcolm Guite. He's taken it upon himself to write seven sonnets corresponding to the seven "Oh Great" antiphons or prayers that the church has traditionally prayed during Advent. Here is his explanation for the project. I think it's quite wonderful. I encourage you to read--or even better, listen to--all his sonnets.

O Adonai 

Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,

Unseeable, you gave yourself away,

The Adonai, the Tetragramaton

Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

O you who dared to be a tribal God,

To own a language, people and a place,

Who chose to be exploited and betrayed,

If so you might be met with face to face,

Come to us here, who would not find you there,

Who chose to know the skin and not the pith,

Who heard no more than thunder in the air,

Who marked the mere events and not the myth.

Touch the bare branches of our unbelief

And blaze again like fire in every leaf.


Bliss Lemmon, woodcut
I have become a big fan of the congregational practice of an Advent Devotional. By no means do I think it's an easy undertaking, as you can see from the note I wrote to our church. Nor do I think there is only way to produce a solid Devotional. As my dad would say when I was a kid, De todo hay en la viña del Señor. Roughly translated: there's a little bit of everything in the Body of Christ. But when it comes to a practice that promotes a richly active way for members of a congregation to participate in the season of Advent, I can't think of a better one than a congregationally produced Devotional.

Here is a sample of Devotionals produced by congregations around the country (and in Canada too). If your church did one, or if you know of a church that did, please mention it in the comments.

1. All Saints Church (Anglican) Durham, NC.

2. Christ the King Presbyterian, Raleigh, NC.

3. Eastbrook Church High School Ministry, Milwaukee, MN.

4. Regent Colleget Advent Reader (while not congregational, still offers a helpful model for how it can be done well).

5. Grace Church, Bellingham, WA.

6. The Village Church, Dallas, TX.

7, All Souls Church, Charlottesville, VA.

8. Providence Church, Austin, TX.

9. Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO.

10. The Gathering Church, Durham, NC.

11. Liberti Fairmont Church, Philadelphia, PA.

12. Christ Church Anglican, Austin, TX

13. Park Slope Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, NY.


cardiphonia said…
david, thanks for this post and the mentions. The sonnets by malcolm are remarkable! thanks so much for linking.
You got it. And, yes, Malcolm's sonnets are quite exquisite.
Travis Greene said…
Hey David,

This is not a devotional, but the artists of Emmaus Way (my congregation; http://www.emmausway.net/) produced this album of Advent music which I highly recommend. You can listen to and/or buy it here:


It is awesome, and it is only $8, all of which goes directly to support working artists here in Durham.
Thanks for passing this along, Travis. That's great!
Paul said…
The songoook 'Global Hymns 3' (produced by United Methodist) has a wonderful new tune for 'Savior of the Nations Come.' I have a video of my Dallas band leading it, will post on YouTube soon.
Paul, thanks for this. I look forward to checking it out.

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