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From Heaven Above (Meditations on Luther's Hymn)

by ToddPeperkorn ~ December 24th, 2008

Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
Kenosha, Wisconsin
Christmas Eve Midnight (Dec. 24, 2008)
Luke 2:1-20

TITLE: “From Heaven Above”

[This sermon is a series of meditations and quotations all from the Christmas sermons of Dr. Martin Luther.  I will post them with citations if anyone is interested. -Todd Peperkorn]
1    “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:
8    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.


The field was flooded with light – brilliant, dazzling.  Not the town, but the field was lighted up.  Why did not the angel go to Jerusalem?  There was the worship established by God.  There were the princes of the people and the rulers in the Church and State.  There were the Temple and the high priests ordained by God.  Why did not the angel go to them?  He went to Bethlehem, a dung heap compared with Jerusalem…and he did not go to the town of Bethlehem but to the shepherds.
“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
“fear not,” said the angel.  I fear death, the judgment of God, the world, hunger, and the like.  The angel announces a Savior who will free us from fear.  Not a word is said about our merits and works, but only the gift we are to receive.

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.

9    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!


“For unto you is born this day,” that is, unto us.  For our sakes he has taken flesh and blood from a woman, that his birth might become our birth.  I too may boast that I am a son of Mary.  This is the way to observe this feast – that Christ be formed in us.  It is not enough that we should hear his story if the heart is closed.  I must listen, not to a history, but to a gift.  If I tell you that someone on a certain mountain peak has picked up a hundred gulden, you will say, “What is that to me?” But if you are the one who has picked it up, you will be joyful.  What is it to me if someone else has goods, honors, riches, and a pretty wife?  That does not touch the heart.  But if you hear that this Child is yours, that takes root, and a man suddenly becomes so strong that to him death and life are the same.

3    “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.

10    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.


This is God’s wedding.  Where is the castle?  A cow stall, a manger, with an ox and an ass, a fine bridal bed, fit to lay a dog in!  But the angels are not ashamed of it.  “Ye shall find him … lying in a manger.”
This only present you need to bring to this wedding is a happy heart.  God smiles and all the host of heaven rejoices.

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.

11    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.


The Kingdom of Christ is a proclamation of peace and grace, as the angels sang that he should be the Savior of the whole world to free his people and save them from their sins.  That he has done and still is doing.  He is not the sort of Lord who fights with the sword and has to do with civil government.  Rather he rules with the gracious preaching of peace.  For that reason he is called Jesus, meaning a Saviour who helps his people to turn and be saved.

5    “These are the signs that 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.”
12    And so it pleases You to see
This simple truth revealed to me:
That worldly honor, wealth, and might
Are weak and worthless in Your sight.

13    Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,
A quiet chamber set apart
For You to dwell within my heart.


It is because of His humanity and His incarnation that Christ becomes sweet to us, and through Him God becomes sweet to us. Let us therefore begin to ascend step by step from Christ’s crying in His swaddling clothes up to His Passion. Then we shall easily know God. I am saying this so that you do not begin to contemplate God from the top, but start with the weak elements. We should busy ourselves completely with treating, knowing, and considering this man. Then you will know that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). So He set forth His weakness that we may approach Him with confidence.

6    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.
14    My heart for very joy must leap;
My lips no more can silence keep.
I, too, must sing with joyful tongue
That sweetest ancient cradlesong:

15    Glory to God in highest heav’n,
Who unto us His Son has giv’n!
While angels sing with pious mirth
A glad new year to all the earth.


A three-fold order is given by the angels in this hymn; the praise or glory, the peace, and the good will or pleasure.  They give God the praise, the peace to the earth, and the good will to men.
The first is the glory or praise of God.  Man should also offer this so that God is given glory and honor in all things.  For it is He who works, who has and who does all things.  Let no one ascribe anything to himself or claim credit for a single thing.  The glory belongs to God alone.
The second is peace on earth.  For just as there must be a lack of peace wherever God’s glory is not present…so also on the other hand, where God God’s glory is, there must be peace.  How could there be discord when you know that nothing is your own?  Rather, if everything that you are, have and can do belongs to God, then act accordingly and be satisfied that you have a gracious God.
That is why Jesus is called a king of peace, or prince o peace…because He makes us peaceful inwardly towards God in our conscience through faith which is built upon Him and outwardly towards people in our temporal walk through love.  So through Him all kinds of peace are upon the earth.
Third, the good will, or approval to men, does not mean here good will for those who do good works but rather the approval and the peaceful heart that lets everything please a person, no matter what he encounters, whether it be good or evil, sweet or bitter.

Luther concludes,
Truly it is marvelous in our eyes that God should place a little child in the lap of a virgin and that all our blessedness should lie in him.  And this Child belongs to all mankind.  God feeds the whole world through a Babe nursing at Mary’s breast.  This must be our daily exercise: to be transformed into Christ, being nourished by this food.  Then will the heart be suffused with all joy and will be strong and confident against every assault.

And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting.  Amen.

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