Martin Luther loved Christmas. Some sources even claim that Luther started the tradition of bringing an evergreen tree into the home and decorating it at Christmas time. This is an interesting thought, but even though the Christmas tree tradition did start in Germany around the time of Luther, there is nothing to tell us conclusively that Luther started it.
One Christmas tradition we can certainly attribute to Luther is the hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”. Luther wrote this 15 verse hymn specifically to teach his children about the real meaning of Christmas. The first seven verses tell the story of Christ’s birth from the viewpoint of the angels and the shepherds. The opening line, “From heaven above to earth I come,” is the angel announcing his arrival to tell about the savior. In the last eight verses we proclaim what this wonderful event means for us.
It was the Christmas of 1534 when Martin Luther and his family first sang this hymn. Every year they would sing the verses of the hymn in this way. A man dressed as an angel would sing the first seven verses, announcing the Savior’s birth. Perhaps this man was Luther himself, a friend, or one of the University students that Luther took into his home. The rest of the family would respond with the final eight verses, rejoicing in God’s gift of his Son.
This year as you celebrate Christmas, remember Luther’s Christmas tradition and the real reason to celebrate. Luther’s hymn can help.
From Heaven Above to Earth I Come
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:
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.
This is the Christ, our God most high,
Who hears your sad and bitter cry;
He will himself your Savior be
From all your sins to set you free.
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.
These are the signs which you shall mark:
The swaddling clothes and manger dark.
There you will find the infant laid
By whom the heav’ns and earth were made.
How glad we’ll be to find it so!
Then with the shepherds let us go
To see what God for us has done
In sending us his own dear Son.
Come here, my friends, lift up your eyes,
And see what in the manger lies.
Who is this child, so young and fair?
It is the Christ child lying there.
Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery,
That you might share your joy with me.
Ah, Lord, though you created all,
How weak you are, so poor and small,
That you should choose to lay your head
Where lowly cattle lately fed!
Were earth a thousand times as fair
And set with gold and jewels rare,
It would be far too poor and small
A cradle for the Lord of all.
Instead of soft and silken stuff
You have but hay and straw so rough
On which as King, so rich and great,
To be enthroned in royal state.
And so it pleases you to see
This simple truth revealed to me:
That all the world’s wealth, honor, might
Are weak and worthless in your sight.
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled
Within my heart, made clean and new,
A quiet chamber kept for you.
My heart for very joy must leap;
My lips no more can silence keep.
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradle song:
Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto us his Son has given!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.