top of page

HYMN 260 Savior of the Nations, Come/Tenn Lys

Updated: Dec 17, 2020

German: Nun kom der heiden Heiland

Norwegian: Folkefrelsar, til oss kom

Swedish: Världens Frälsare kom här

Text: Ambrose/Martin Luther (1483-1546) Tune: Martin Luther (1483-1546)

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.


Martin Luther and Katie singing hymns with family

If you are looking back at old Lutheran hymnals, chances are pretty good that this will be the first hymn in the book or the Advent section. Martin Luther’s project of creating hymns in German for the people can be seen here rather clearly. As a monk he had sung Ambrose’ hymn to an old Gregorian chant, "Veni redemptor gentium," for the liturgy of the hours, starting a week before Christmas. Some people think it was associated with the Vespers service and is an evening hymn, thus my choice for this week’s evening hymn.

When Luther and his colleagues began working on hymnals in 1524, they had all grown up with the Latin chant and knew it well. Their task was to prepare German texts and tunes. They didn't want to just translate the text and continue to sing it to the Latin chant; it didn't meet their notion that the language and music of worship should be in the vernacular. Luther took the Latin and made it into a German hymn, "Nun kom der heiden Heiland." And then, to assure that it made sense musically with the German text, he recomposed the old chant tune into one that worked with German words. One can hear the chant in Luther's tune, but this is pure German church music from the Reformation.

The hymn is filled with joy. The hymn is not so much a plea that the Lord come, but a sermon teaching us who Jesus is and what he came to do for us: Son of God and Son of Mary; A wondrous birth for us; he came into our world to save us; his victory and a doxology.

Ambrose and Augustine by Wolgemut, Nuremberg 1498

Anyone who translates this into English usually looks at Luther’s German and Ambrose’ Latin. When we were working on it for the LBW, we could see how Luther had ignored some of Ambrose’ downplaying of the flesh and rejoiced in both Jesus’ divine and human heritage. Luther, not yet married, disagreed with how the medieval church valued the celibate life over the married, and would later exult in his own marriage to Katherina von Bora in 1526. It wasn’t that Jesus lowered himself to be born of a woman—but to be born into our fallen world. Luther venerated Mary and called her the first Christian because she was the first to say yes to bearing the Word of God.

Ambrose can be seen as the father of Christian hymnody with his collection of hymns mostly for the daily offices of the church—morning and evening hymns especially. Luther valued Ambrose' work and knew, as an Augustinian monk himself, that Ambrose' eloquence had brought Augustine to the faith. This hymn needed to be among the treasures they took from the ancients, revising and updating them, and in that process making an entirely new thing—which is almost always what happens when reformers try to get back to the original. They make something new. That is a Christian theme as well. Remember Christ tells us in Revelation, Behold, I make all things new! Even today!

HYMN INFO Luther’s hymn has been used for centuries on the first Sunday of Advent among Lutherans and still is. It is the first hymn in the 2013 Norwegian hymnal. It appeared in the 1524 hymnals Erfurt Enchiridion and Walter’s Eyn geystlich Gesangk Buchleyn. Early on it became the first hymn in Lutheran hymnals or at least in the Advent section. Bach wrote two cantatas and several other pieces based on this hymn. It remains fundamental to Advent celebrations for Lutherans around the world.

LINKS Concordia Publishing House Version

Robert Farrell Contemporary use of tune and text

Germans singing in German

Vladimir Horowitz version of Bach/Busoni choral prelude 639

Bach Cantata BWV 62 Nun Kom Der Heiden Heiland

Tenn Lys/Light the candles

Starboys in the Lucia pageant

This year we are missing the Lucia festival at our congregation. The kids love the hymns that are in the service. One they especially like is this new one by Sigvald Tveit and Eyvind Skeie. Sigvald and Eyvind were a formidable team. They wrote a lot of hymns and songs together. Sigvald recently died. Eyvind continues his work writing..

Here are some versions:

See a translation in English but the sound is not pleasing

Helene Bøksle

118 views1 comment

1 Comment

Nun komm der Heiden Heiland is one of my favorites. Thank you for the history behind it. I admit that I had forgotten (if I ever knew) that Luther had composed this, based on St. Ambrose's tune. Beautiful.

bottom of page