Today’s Word from Trinity Keyboardist Sheila Weidendorf
Martin Luther (1483-1546), as well we know! — was a German theologian and Augustinian monk — ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1507. He is known well for his reforming work that ultimately sparked the Protestant movement and, indeed, the Lutheran Church. He was also, however, a composer who emphasized and heightened the role of congregational singing who made the acquaintance of such luminary Renaissance composers as Josquin des Prez! His insistence on “audience participation” as an assertion of faith required parishioners to have basic music instruction. Thus, local congregations and schools took up the task of the musical training of the parishioners. In addition, this rise of congregational singing required a common compendium of music for the liturgy—aka, a hymnal. A team of musicians, possibly directed by Martin Luther, composed and complied the first geistliches Gesangbuchlein, or “small sacred songbook.”
Today’s Advent hymn, Savior of the Nations, Come, is oft attributed to Martin Luther. This is not completely the case, strictly-speaking. The original melody is an example of plainsong (what we know as Gregorian Chant is a type of plainsong — a simple, unaccompanied text-based melody or chant) in this instance composed by Ambrose of Milan – a 4th century lawyer who rather abruptly became baptized, ordained and made Bishop of Milan by public demand. He is considered to be the creator of antiphonal chanting – essentially call and response between sections of the choir. The original song was the Latin, Veni, Redemptor gentium. This was translated into the German Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. Martin Luther, then both re-worked this German translation (he maintained both German and Latin in his chorale forms) as well as wrote more text. Martin Luther’s version was included in both that 1524 volume, geistliches Gesangbuchlein, as well as Enchiridion Oder handbüchlein (basically a liturgical handbook) published by Johannes Loersfeld. It was Luther’s chorale version-that was harmonized by J.S. Bach himself and that remains in used today.
Savior of the nations, come; virgin’s son, make here your home.
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth: God has chosen such a birth.
Not by human flesh and blood, by the Spirit of our God
was the Word of God made flesh, fruit of woman, pure and fresh.
Wondrous birth—oh, wondrous child— of the virgin undefiled!
Human and divine in one, eager now his race to run!
God the Father is his source, back to God he runs his course;
down to death and hell descends, God’s high throne he reascends.
Now thy manger’s halo bright hallows night with newborn light;
let no night this light subdue, let our faith shine ever new.
This text is essentially both a re-affirmation of the Nicene Creed—God incarnated as man, thus both human and divine; born of a woman but “begotten” and not made; come to Earth to conquer death via his “course” of crucifixion, resurrection, ascension; God made human, returning to God—just as all rivers run to the great sea—as well as a brief historical summary of the Christian liturgical year! It begins with awe that God would come to Earth to live amongst us as a man—but how else to reveal that we are all made in God’s own likeness??
Then the marvel of the miraculous birth of One enfleshed, born but begotten of spirit and here for purpose–to walk a God-defined path of light. The hymn stresses that the Christ is of God and to God shall return, after completing the ultimate “Hero’s Journey (move over, Odysseus!!!) of death, descent and ultimate ascent and bringing a light no darkness can conceal or overcome. In a way, Savior of the Nations, Come is the ULTIMATE confession of Christianity’s core tenants and, indeed, it concludes with a call to the believer to renew and reaffirm their faith.
In this season of increasing darkness as we all wait for the light to return—AND as we all hope for brighter days in the coming new year—let us be encouraged by this sacred music to consider our own light. As creatures of God, created by and in the likeness of God, the coming of the Christ reminds us that we are all called to find our inner light and share it with a world too often crushed under the weight of darkness, of conflict and needless strife as human attention is given over to so much meaningless and trivial—and dare I say, illusory?!?–nonsense.
In this Advent season, under the veil of still-diminishing daylight and living under the Covid-required bell jar, what better time to fan the flames of the light that burns within each one of us? What better time to put our attention in the heart, the seat of the soul, and to recognize the Christened and God-given light that we truly are? In doing so—in seeing each other through the eyes of Light—we come ever closer to realizing heaven here on earth, in the “in between” that us, each to the other, and “let no night this light subdue.”
Please enjoy Trio Indigo’s rendition of Savior of the Nations, Come by clicking HERE.
Linda Vogt, violin
Mary Riles, cello
Sheila Weidendorf, harpsichord