December 09, 2022

Christmas and Advent Hymns and their Story

“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”

“Von Himmel Hoch”

Of the three Christmas Hymns written by Dr. Martin Luther [1483-1546], none is more beloved than “From Heaven Above”. It first appeared in print in 1535, with the title, “Ein Kinder lied auff die Weinacht Christi” [A Children’s song on the birth of Chirst]. Luther wrote it as a kind of Christmas pageant for his children and other members of his parish.
Verses 1-5 are the words of the angel, as indicated by the use of the first-person singular. Luther wants us to listen to hear of the Good News that has come our way in Luke 2:10: “And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” There is no fear in this hymn, only the joy that results from the good news of a Savior’s birth. We can almost picture the Luther family, gathered around 8 day old Margarita’s cradle as 8 year old Hans, dressed as an angel, invites the family to listen to the account of the birth of the infant Lord Jesus.
In verse 6 the pronouns become plural as the rest of the family and the rest of the family join with the shepherds in Luke 2:15: “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
The ultimate warmth of Christmas Eve is expressed in the invitation in verse 13, to “prepare a bed, soft, undefiled … for you dwell within my heart.” The theme ofjoy continues in verse 14, when the children can no longer keep silent, but must break forth in praise with the angels. We see in the final two verses that Luther expected the angel to join the children and everyone in the house in praise to the newborn King. We sing about a “glad new year”, not of a calendar year, but the newness that has dawned in the birth of the Christ-Child.

From heav’n above to earth I come to bear good news to ev’ry home:
Glad tidings of great joy I bring, Whereof I now will say and sing

LSB 358

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