Dear Prayer Warrior
I have often wondered who waits for whom? I somehow remember that a guy chases a girl until she catches him. Do I wait for the Lord or is the Lord waiting for me? Is the Lord hiding in an obvious place like behind a branch without leaves and is all excited when found. Am I the one looking? Am I the one to be found? People have made many pilgrimages to almost all the Holy Places. The real issue is that we need to look in more obvious places. What obvious place would Jesus hide? An inn? A barn? A cave? A crib? I think we need to ask the question about ourselves. Where and how do we hide? Under piles of work? Busy, busy, busy? In the yard? I could focus on any of those. I choose to speak about hiding behind past hurts or wounds. Wounded wolves, they tell me, hide in a corner. They howl and bark to protect the wound. If you approach, the howl becomes fiercer and more angry. The fierce anger, in the mind of the wolf, hides the wound. No one can get near it! I see God hiding behind a leafless branch excited at the opportunity of being found, and we are hiding behind our bark and growl. No one can come near. So, how do we come together? In our fair or unfair bark, we wait and wait and wait. Like the tantrum of a spoiled child, we have to wait it out and see the branch. The Lord is there all along, still excited about being found. All of our prayer is not a denial of our wounds. Our prayer is an invitation to take the risk and find a new way of healing the pain by looking behind the branch. Help to make this Advent a prayerful time of waiting to see who finds whom? Would you not wait so that the Lord might meet you? Come, Let us Adore Him!
In need of our prayers:
Health Concerns: Deb Williamson, Allison Lowderman, Dorothy Eckhoff, Ron Gray
For all expecting mothers and their children.
For all who grieve, that they would have peace that passes understanding through Jesus Christ; especially for Kristen Schaefer (Larimore) as she continues to mourn her husband Steven; for the Leo family as they mourn Tom’s death; and all others grieving.
For Johnny Runyon, serving in Afghanistan, and for all our military personnel.
For the unemployed and underemployed.
For our nation.
For all who travel.
For Christian marriages, that they would be founded on the love and forgiveness of Christ.
For Christian families and friends, that God would strengthen them to love each other and work together in God’s kingdom.
That many visitors and inactive members would join us in worship over the holidays, and feed their faith on the Gospel.
That God would provide for faithful stewards that together we would be effective in the work of the Gospel.
That God would bless all who teach and all who learn in all our Christian education classes, Bible studies, and small groups, that we all might grow in our faith.
For God’s blessings upon the new season of Upward Basketball, which is now underway.
That God would bless our Abounding Love Preschool ministry.
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, that God would continue provide all they need.
That God would richly bless local and international mission efforts:
Rev. Bob Malone at Peace Lutheran in Kansas City, Missouri
Father, what assurance fills our heart when we consider the spoken promise of Jesus, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” It is in keeping with the name given at Christ’s coming to earth, “Emmanuel” – God with us. You are with us before we draw our first breath. You are with us when we struggle to draw our final breath. And You are with us in all life’s struggles between our first and final breath. You guide us with Your right hand, not from a distance checking in with us here and there. You are our friend who sticks closer than a brother. We thank You, Father, for Your giving and we thank You, Jesus, for Your coming. Amen.
by Martin Luther 1535
One year as Luther was thinking about his Christmas sermon and rocking the cradle of his youngest at the same time, the words and the music of this lovely Christmas hymn came to him. He picked up his lute and sang these words. This hymn was penned in 1534 for his children and family.
“Luther was accustomed every year to prepare for his family a happy Christmas Eve’s entertainment….and for this festival of his children, he wrote this Christmas hymn. Its opening lines are modeled on the song “Aus Fremden Landen Komm’ Ich Her”, and throughout, he successfully catches the ring of the popular sacred song. It is said that Luther celebrated the festival in his own house in this original fashion: by his orders, the first seven verses of this hymn were sung by a man dressed as an angel, whom the children greeted with the 8th and following verses.”Of the six Christmas hymns and translations most often associated with Martin Luther, none is more beloved than “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” (LSB 358). Appearing in print for the first time in 1535, it bears the heading, “Ein kinder lied auff die Weinacht Christi” (“A children’s song about the birth of Christ”). It is assumed that Luther wrote this text as a kind of Christmas pageant for his own five surviving children and other members of his household for their 1534 family celebration of Christmas.
A quick comparison (through English translation) shows how Luther deftly adapted this medieval folk song:
Original Garland Song
—Luther’s Works, 53:289 Luther’s Stanza
From heav’n above to earth I come
Stanza 1 of the garland song is set as if a traveling ballad-singer had come into a marketplace bearing news from afar that he then offers to share with the people in the square. Luther picks up on this picture, using the image of an angel coming from far abroad (heaven) into the circle of the shepherds keeping watch, offering to share the good news with them of what has just happened in Bethlehem.
One cannot avoid the sense that the origin of this lovely 15-stanza Christmas hymn is indeed that of an intimate family celebration, rather than a congregational song.
While the editors of Lutheran Worship chose to divide this hymn into two sections (“The Angel’s Message” and “Our Response”) and omit stanza 12 of Luther’s original, the compilers of Lutheran Service Book (LSB), appreciating the unity of the hymn, restored stanza 12.
Although several translations of this Christmas hymn exist, the one included in LSB is an alteration of the translation by Catherine Winkworth, first published in her Lyra Germanica of 1855.
A Hymn of Joy
In stanza 1, Luther’s adaptation of the garland song invites the children to listen to the “good news of great joy brought by the angel to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. It is striking that Luther makes nothing of the first words of the angel: “Fear not!” (Luke 2:10). There is no fear in this hymn, only the joy that results from the good news. Note that stanzas 1–5 are clearly meant to be sung by the angel, as indicated by the use of the first person singular and thequotation marks around each stanza in LSB.
One can almost picture the Luther family, gathered perhaps around 8-day-old Margaretha’s cradle, as 8-year-old Hans, or one of the student boarders who lived with the Luthers, dressed as an angel, invites the family to listen once again to the story of the birth of the infant Lord.
Stanzas 2–5 are an extended paraphrase of the words of the angel from Luke 2:11–12. Luther goes beyond a simple retelling of the story to emphasize the great joy that comes from knowing that Jesus came “from all your sins to set you free.”
In stanza 6, the rest of the family and all others (note the change to first person plural) join with the shepherds (Luke 2:15), expecting to experience the joy that will come from discovering that the words of the angel are all true. Luther’s intention was that individual children would sing stanzas 7–14 in response to seeing that the words of the angel were indeed true. The children invite others to see the Christ Child (stanza 7), and then they begin to talk directly to the little Child, welcoming Him to the sinful world (stanza 8) that He “might share Your joy with me.”
There is perhaps a hint of Phil. 2:6–9 in stanzas 9–12, as the children marvel that the One who deserved riches and luxuries would choose such a lowly birth. The ultimate warmth of the Christmas Eve story is expressed in the invitation in stanza 13 to “Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled . . . for You to dwell within my heart.”
The theme of joy returns in stanza 14, when the children can no longer keep silent but must break forth in praise with the angels. The change to first person plural in stanza 15 indicates that Luther expected the angel to join with the children and everyone else in the household in his paraphrase of the Gloria in excelsis of Luke 2:14. German hymn scholar Ansgar Franz suggests that the last line of this stanza, with its reference to “a glad new year,” may not be so much a reference to the new calendar year (which, in 16th century Saxony, began with Christmas)as to a new age that has dawned with the birth of the Christ Child.
Tunes Old and New
When Luther’s children’s song for Christmas first appeared in 1535, it was not only a textual contrafactum of the garland song, it was also coupled with the traditional tune of that same medieval folk song “Aus fremden Landen komm ich hier.”
Within four years, however, Luther’s hymn became so well-known that he must have sensed that it needed its own tune. When the hymn was printed in Schumann’s Geistlicher Lieder (Leipzig, 1539), it was coupled with the new tune, Vom Himmel hoch. Since then, this tune has become the proper tune for Luther’s text and is therefore the tune included in LSB.
1. "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
3. "This is the Christ, our God and Lord,
4. "He will on you the gifts bestow
5. "These are the tokens ye shall mark:
6. Now let us all with gladsome cheer
7. Give heed, my heart, lift up thine eyes!
9. Ah, Lord, who hast created all,
10. Were earth a thousand times as fair,
11. For velvets soft and silken stuff
12. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee
13. Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
14. My heart for very joy doth leap,
15. Glory to God in highest heaven,
Text: Luke 2: 1-18
Author: Martin Luther, 1535
Tune: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm' ich her
Translated by: Catherine Winkworth, 1855, alt.
1st published in: "Geistliche Lieder" Leipzig, 1539
by Martin Luther
Sermon on the Afternoon of Christmas Day
But for whom was he born and whose Lord and Savior is he? The angels declare that he was born Lord and Savior. The Turks, the pope, and the scholars say the same thing, but only to the extent that it brings in money and honor. But that anyone could say, “to you is born,” as the angel says, this is the faith which we must preach about. But we cannot preach about it as we would like to do. Indeed, who could ever grasp [the full meaning of] these words of the evangelist: “a Savior, who is the Lord,” and, “to you”! I know well enough how to talk about it and what to believe about it, just as others do. So there are many who have this belief and do it, just as others do. So there are many who have this belief and do not doubt this first belief that Christ is the Lord, the Savior, and the virgin’s Son. This I too have never doubted. But if these words are planted no higher than my thoughts, then they have no firm roots. We are certain that this was proclaimed by the angel, but the firm faith does not follow. For the reason does not understand both sides of this faith, first that Christ is a man, but also the Savior and Lord or King. This needs to be revealed from heaven. One who really has the first faith also has the other.
Who, then, are those to whom this joyful news is to be proclaimed? Those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaim the message, letting the great lords in Jerusalem, who do not accept it, go on sleeping. Beyond the first faith there must be the second faith, that Christ is not only the virgin’s Son, but also the Lord of angels and the Savior of men. The words anyone can understand, antisacramentarians, fanatics, sectarians, and Turks; but they do not proceed from the heart they come only from hearing and go no farther than hearing. This is not faith, however, but only a memory of what has been heard, that one knows that he has heard it. Nobody ventures upon it, so as to stake goods, life, and honor upon it. And yet we must preach it for the sake of those who are in the multitude to whom the angel preached.
This is our theology, which we preach in order that we may understand what the angel wants. Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap. Why did God do all this? Why does Mary guard the child as a mother should? And reason answers: in order that we may make an idol of her, that honor may be paid to the mother. Mary becomes all this without her knowledge and consent, and all the songs and glory and honor are addressed to the mother. And yet the text does not sound forth the honor of the mother, for the angel says, “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:10-11]. I am to accept the child and his birth and forget the mother, as far as this is possible, although her part cannot be forgotten, for where there is a birth there must also be a mother. Nevertheless, we dare not put our faith in the mother but only in the fact that the child was born. And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, saw nothing but the child born of the virgin, and desired that all created things should be as nothing compared with this child, that we should see nothing, be it harps, gold, goods, honor, power, and the like which we would prefer before their message. For if I received even the costliest and the best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior. And if the Turk were ten times stronger than he is, he could not for one moment save me from my infirmity, to say nothing of the peril of death, and even less from the smallest sin or from death itself. In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, “To you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth. The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that he is my Savior become in my eyes that I can say: Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down. But I have a greater honor than your honor as his mother. For your honor pertains to your motherhood of the body of the child, but my honor is this, that you have my treasure, so that I know none, neither men nor angels, who can help me except this child whom you, O Mary, hold in your arms. If a man could put out of his mind all that he is and has except this child, and if for him everything—money, goods, power, or honor—fades into darkness and he despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes nothing to him, that man would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel. And for us the time must come when suddenly all will be darkness and we shall know nothing but this message of the angel: “I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior” [Luke 2:10-11].
This, then, is the faith we preach, of which the Turks and the pope and all the sectarians know nothing. The fanatics do, it is true, snatch to themselves the words of the angels, but how earnest they are is plain to see. For they receive the Word only as a piece of paper, as the cup and corporal receive the body and blood of Christ. The paper does no more than contain something and pass it on to others, but yet it remains paper. Thus you copy something from one paper on another paper; from my tongue the Word sounds in your ear, but it does not go to the heart. So they receive this greatest of treasures to their great harm and still think they are Christians, just as though the paper were to say: I certainly have in me the written words, “to you is born this day the Savior”; therefore I shall be saved. But then the fire comes and burns up the paper.
Therefore this is the chief article, which separates us from all the heathen, that you, O man, may not only learn that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior, but also accept the fact that he is your Lord and Savior, that you may be able to boast in your hear: I hear the Word that sounds from heaven and says: This child who is born of the virgin is not only his mother’s son. I have more than the mother’s estate; he is more mine than Mary’s, for he was born for me, for the angel said, “To you” is born the Savior. Then ought you to say, Amen, I thank thee, dear Lord.
But then reason says: Who knows? I believe that Christ, born of the virgin, is the Lord and Savior and he may perhaps help Peter and Paul, but for me, a sinner, he was not born. But even if you believed that much, it would still not be enough, unless there were added to it the faith that he was born for you. For he was not born merely in order that I should honor the mother, that she should be praised because he was born of the virgin mother. This honor belongs to none except her and it is not to be despised, for the angel said, “Blessed are you among women!” [Luke 1:28]. But it must not be too highly esteemed lest one deny what is written here: “To you is born this day the Savior.” He was not merely concerned to be born of a virgin; it was infinitely more than that. It was this, as she herself sings in the Magnificat: “He has helped his servant Israel” [Luke 1:54]; not that he was born of me and my virginity but born for you and for your benefit, not only for my honor.
Take yourself in hand, examine yourself and see whether you are a Christian! If you can sing: The Son, who is proclaimed to be a Lord and Savior, is my Savior; and if you can confirm the message of the angel and say yes to it and believe it in your heart, then your heart will be filled with such assurance and joy and confidence, and you will not worry much about even the costliest and best that this world has to offer. For when I can speak to the virgin from the bottom of my heart and say: O Mary, noble, tender virgin, you have borne a child; this I want more than robes and guldens, yea, more than my body and life; then you are closer to the treasure than everything else in heaven and earth, as Ps. 73 [:25] says, “There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” You see how a person rejoices when he receives a robe or ten guldens. But how many are there who shout and jump for joy when they hear the message of the angel: “To you is born this day the Savior?” Indeed, the majority look upon it as a sermon that must be preached, and when they have heard it, consider it a trifling thing, and go away just as they were before. This shows that we have neither the first nor the second faith. We do not believe that the virgin mother bore a son and that he is the Lord and Savior unless, added to this, I believe the second thing, namely, that he is my Savior and Lord. When I can say: This I accept as my own, because the angel meant it for me, then, if I believe it in my heart, I shall not fail to love the mother Mary, and even more then child, and especially the Father. For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know the feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, that he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? “If God is for us, who is against us?” [Rom. 8:31]. Greater words than these I cannot speak, nor all the angels and even the Holy Spirit, as is sufficiently testified by the beautiful and devout songs that have been made about it. I do not trust myself to express it. I most gladly hear you sing and speak of it, but as long as no joy is there, so long is faith still weak or even nonexistent, and you still do not believe the angel.
You can see what our papists and Junkers, who have chosen innumerable saviors, have felt about this faith. Indeed, the papists still want to retain the mass, the invocation of saints, and their invented works by which we are to be saved. This is as much as to say, I do not believe in the Savior and Lord whom Mary bore; and yet they sing the words of the angel, hold their triple masses [at Christmas] and play their organs. They speak the words with their tongues but their heart has another savior. And the same is true in the monasteries: if you want to be saved, remember to keep the rule and regulations of Francis and you will have a gracious God! And at the Diet of Augsburg they decided to stick to this. In the name of all of the devils, let them stick there! It has been said sufficiently that this Savior lies in the manger. But if there is any other thing that saves me, then I rightly call it my savior. If the sun, moon, and stars save, I can call them saviors. If St. Bartholomew or St Anthony or a pilgrimage to St. James or good works save, then they surely are my savior. If St. Francis, then he is my savior. But then what is left of the honor of the child who was born this day, whom the angel calls Lord and Savior, and who wants to keep his name, which is Savior and Christ the Lord. If I set up any savior except this child, no matter who or what it is or is called, then he is not the Savior. But the text says that he is the Savior. And if this is true—and it is the truth—then let everything else go.
One who hears the message of the angel and believes it will be filled with fear, like the shepherds. True, it is too high for me to believe that I should come into this treasure without any merit on my part. And yet, so it must be. In the papacy this message was not preached in the pulpit, and I am afraid that it will disappear again. It was the other message that the devil initiated and has allowed to remain in the papacy. All their hymns are to this effect. Among the Turks the devil has completely wiped it out. Therefore, remember it, sing it, and learn it, while there is still time! I fear that the time will come when we shall not be allowed to hear, believe, and sing this message in public, and the time has already come when it is no longer understood; though Satan does not allow it to be spoken with the mouth, as the papists do. But when it comes to declaring that he is born for you and to singing:
In dulci jubilo
—this he is unwilling to allow.
What we have said, then, has been about that second faith, which is not only to believe in Mary's Son, but rather that he who lies in the virgin's lap is our Savior, that you accept this and give thanks to God, who so loved you that he gave you a Savior who is yours. And for a sign he sent the angel from heaven to proclaim him, in order that nothing else should be preached except that this child is the Savior and far better than heaven and earth. Him, therefore, we should acknowledge and accept; confess him as our Savior in every need, call upon him, and never doubt that he will save us from all misfortune. Amen.
Because of the length of this hymn, "From Heaven Above", it lends itself best to singing in alternation between portions of the congregation or choir or cantor. Observing the structure of the hymn may help to suggest possibilities.
At home today, why not consider using this wonderful hymn as Luther most likely did, as part of a family pageant and a celebration of the festival of Christmas. Make it a Christmas tradition.---
About the Author: Rev. William H. Otte is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn. This article was excerpted and adapted from the LSB hymn commentary, Lutheran Service Book: Hymnal Companion, forthcoming from Concordia Publishing House in 2011, Jon D. vieker and Peter C. Reske, general editors; Joseph herl, project researcher. Also available from CPH is the children’s Advent/Christmas service, From Heaven Above, order number 35-1342.