FROM HEAVEN ABOVE TO EARTH I COME
Martin Luther, translated by Catherine Winkworth
This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Therefore, in honor of Martin Luther’s significant role in the Reformation and the Church of Christ, I thought we would consider one of the Christmas carols that he wrote. It is one of Lutheranism’s greatest Christmas carols, and it is entitled “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”.
Robert J. Morgan in Then Sings My Soul, book 2, presents the story behind the carol and it is as touching as the words Luther wrote.
Luther was an Augustinian monk, and that means the he had taken a vow of celibacy. Even though the Reformation truths of Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, meant that such vows were not required, Luther intended to maintain a celibate life.
After the Reformation, both monks and nuns were renouncing vows of celibacy and marrying. Luther heard of a nearby cloister in which the nuns wanted to marry but they were in virtual captivity. Luther sought help from a merchant, and he smuggled the nuns out by placing them in empty barrels used to deliver herring to the nunnery.
After freeing the nuns, Luther took it upon himself to find husbands for them, and he was successful except for one young lady, Katharina Von Bora, who remained unmarried for two years. When Luther visited his parents, and said that he might have to marry her himself, his father gave whole-hearted support.
Martin and Katharina were married on June 27, 1525. In the spring of 1526 Martin bragged to his friends: “There’s about to be born a child of a monk and a nun!” and on June 7, 1526, little Hans Luther was born to the couple.
Luther was a devoted father and for Christmas when Hans was 5 years old, Martin penned this hymn, calling it “a Christmas child’s song concerning the child Jesus” and it was annually sung in Luther’s home during the Christmas Eve festivities.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Philippians 2:5-8 ESV
Let Luther’s hymn and the words of Paul remind you during this season that our Savior did come from heaven to earth, He did leave all his majesty and power behind Him in heaven and He did become man so that He could be our Savior. He deserves all honor, glory and reverence from us for this sacrifice on our behalf.
Hear this hymn sung by the University of St. Thomas Alumni Choir, Aquinas Chapel, December 18, 2013. The YouTube description states “Written by Martin Luther (1483-1546) and translated by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878), this carol begins with the angelic proclamation of Christ’s birth and ends with a worshipful human response inviting Jesus to abide within the “quiet chamber” of the heart. In this new setting, verses selected from the original text alternate with the refrain “Gloria, the Christ is born.”” Music composed and conducted by Josh Bauder.
Father, I thank You for giving us the gift of Jesus Christ who came as a Babe and lived a perfect life so that He could be the atoning sacrifice for me, one who cannot life a perfect moment let alone life! I pray that this Christmas season I would have a new appreciation for Christ’s coming to earth from heaven above.