From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (Advent 18-2014)

Today’s carol in our Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) is less familiar to me.  Perhaps that’s because it was written by Martin Luther and A Mighty Fortress is Our God eclipses his other hymns outside of Lutheran circles.

From Heaven Above to Earth I Come was written by Martin Luther (yes, of Reformation fame) for family devotionals.  It is said Luther wrote this carol especially for his five year old son Hans and was performed a man dressed up as an angel (or sung by the parents) pronouncing the opening verses that one would expect would be straight out of Scripture.  (After all, this is Martin Luther we’re talking about.  Mr. Sola Scriptura—by Scripture alone!)

Luke 2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

According to the Virginia Lutherans ELCA,

This Christmas hymn is Luther’s own composition, dated around 1535 when Luther’s own children would have been old enough to sing. The scholarly conjecture is that the hymn originated in Luther’s family devotion, with the part of the angels in verses one to five being sung by the parents, individual children singing the various verses eight through fourteen, and all together singing verse seven and fifteen (LW 53: 267). Luke’s depiction of the angels’ proclamation of the good news to the shepherds structures the first part. Thus the parents lead the children to sing their parts to the Christ‐child by concluding the introductory verses with the exhortation of the shepherds in verse six “to go and see this thing which the Lord has made known.” The hymn concludes with all voices joining the angels in the praise of God.

This carol was sung not only for the an­nu­al Christ­mas Eve fes­ti­val at the Lu­ther home, but 4 years later would be published to a folk tune and then to the one written by Luther himself,  Vom Himmel hoch, da komm’ ich her. Variations on this tune were written by Johann Sebastian Bach and the carol itself was later translated for us into English in 1855 by Catherine Winkworth (who we’ve seen before as a great translator of the German chorale tradition for English audiences).

While present in a few hymnals in all fifteen verses (!), the only hymnals that I have even containing this carol will include only the 4 verses highlighted below.

As you read all 15 verses, listen to this version on double-bass by deaf performer Hector Tirado and ponder our Thought Focus for Today.

Thought Focus for Today: Here we see a prime example of how Christmas carols can teach the Bible.  How might you do family devotions (especially for children) using Christmas carols?

from heaven above to earth i come1. “From heaven above to earth I come

 To bear good news to every home;

 Glad tidings of great joy I bring,

 Whereof I now will say and sing:


2. “To you this night is born a child

 Of Mary, chosen virgin mild;

 This little child, of lowly birth,

 Shall be the joy of all the earth.


3. “This is the Christ, our God and Lord,

Who in all need shall aid afford;

He will Himself your Savior be

From all your sins to set you free.


4. “He will on you the gifts bestow

Prepared by God for all below,

That in His kingdom, bright and fair,

You may with us His glory share.


5. “These are the tokens ye shall mark:

The swaddling-clothes and manger dark;

There ye shall find the Infant laid

By whom the heavens and earth were made.”


6. Now let us all with gladsome cheer

Go with the shepherds and draw near

To see the precious gift of God,

Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.


7. Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!

What is it in yon manger lies?

Who is this child, so young and fair?

The blessed Christ-child lieth there.


8. Welcome to earth, Thou noble Guest,

Through whom the sinful world is blest!

Thou com’st to share my misery;

What thanks shall I return to Thee?


9. Ah, Lord, who hast created all,

How weak art Thou, how poor and small,

That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed

Where humble cattle lately fed!


10. Were earth a thousand times as fair,

Beset with gold and jewels rare,

It yet6 were far too poor to be

A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.


11. For velvets soft and silken stuff

Thou hast but hay and straw so rough,

Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great,

As ’twere Thy heaven, art throned in state.


12. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee

To make this truth quite plain to me,

That all the world’s wealth, honor, might,

Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.


13. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,

 Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,

 Within my heart, that it may be

 A quiet chamber kept for Thee.


14. My heart for very joy doth leap,

My lips no more can silence keep;

I, too, must sing with joyful tongue

That sweetest ancient cradle-song:


15. Glory to God in highest heaven,

 Who unto us His Son hath given!

 While angels sing with pious mirth

 A glad new year to all the earth.


Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) began November 30th.  By way of reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet, you can receive these devotional studies in your email throughout Advent 2014 by entering your email address on the home page in the space provided in the sidebar.  Or “Like” the SeminaryGal Facebook page to access them there.  If you like these devotionals, I’d really appreciate your letting others know so I can continue to spread the Good News far and wide.  Blessings to you, in Christ always, Barbara <><

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on December 17, 2014

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