From Heaven Above to Earth I Come
There is a great deal of excitement this morning. Today is a bit different as we are celebrating the Eve of Christ’s birth in the morning. The children are excited to speak their memorized Bible verses and hymns. Parents are excited to see their children in the front of church sharing the Savior’s story.
The children are excited because they think that after worship this morning, they’ll have more time to open and then play with their presents. Families are excited that they’ll be able to have more time to go to Grandpa and Grandma’s house this afternoon. You are excited to be able to come back to church this evening to sing all different Christmas hymns and hear a different Christmas message in our candlelight service.
However, in the past, you probably weren’t all that excited to sing Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn, “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” My goodness, it has fifteen stanzas! That’s a good eight minutes for just one song!
And yet, when you paid attention to the words of Luther’s hymn, you could hear the excitement of the angel Gabriel in the first five stanzas. “From heav’n above to earth I come To bear good news to ev’ry home; Glad tidings of great joy I bring, Where-of I now will say and sing.” Then the angel goes on to sing about where this Christchild came from and what He came to do.
But, why should the angel be so excited? Everything seemed so ordinary. Mothers have babies all the time. The earthly parents seemed ordinary enough. A peasant girl and a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Sure, there is some intrigue with where the family is going to stay since the Bethlehem inn is full. But, they most likely stayed with one of Joseph’s extended family members, in the room off to the side of the house where the cattle, sheep, and donkey would have bedded down for the evening.
This is no ordinary child, as we sang about in stanzas six through fifteen. We joined our voices with those of the shepherds to ask: “Who is this child, so young and fair? It is the Christchild lying there.”
Throughout the remaining stanzas, with excitement we sang how this was no ordinary child. We sang of the contrast between what this Child left in heaven and what He was experiencing on earth. “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!”
I love the eleventh stanza in the English. It is the very rare hymn that uses the word “stuff” in it. But, you need something to rhyme with “rough.” “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.”
There is excitement in both Luke’s Gospel and Luther’s hymn. Gabriel is excited to come from heaven above to earth to proclaim the birth of this Child to Mary. The heavenly angels are excited to sing “Glory to God in the highest” to this extraordinary Child. The shepherds are excited to leave their field to run and worship this Child in the manger.
What made the ordinary so extraordinary? Why all the excitement? God became one of us to rescue all of us. To provide the perfect life that was demanded as payment for sin, God required a perfect human being. The Bible explains, “For this reason, [Jesus] had to become like his brothers in every way, in order that he would be a merciful and faithful high priest in the things pertaining to God, so that he could pay for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
No wonder everyone was so excited! This special baby, sent from heaven by God, came to “free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:15). This baby has changed who we are. We used to be mortal, subject to death. Now, we no longer fear death. Death is just the evening here on earth that flows into the bright new morning in heaven.
This baby came to share our misery as He grew up to be scorned, to suffer, and to die. He allowed this to happen to Him so that we might receive joy, comfort, and resurrection.
The shepherds and angels are so excited because this baby did not come to be like us. He came to be one of us!
Marvel with the angels and shepherds at the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity” (Hebrews 2:14). Hidden within the ordinary is that which is beyond extraordinary! Christ left His golden throne to be laid in a cattle trough, so that we might be gathered one day around His golden throne. Christ left the praise of the saints and angels in heaven so that he would be surrounded by smelly animals, dirty shepherds, and an unwed couple, so that we might surround Him one day with the saints and angels.
Christ shared our humanity so that He could keep the Law perfectly and then give that perfection to cover our imperfection. Christ shared our humanity so that He could suffer hell in our place and then give us heaven instead. Christ shared our humanity so that God could die. It is through the God-Man’s death and resurrection that we are rescued from death and saved for eternity.
That’s why we are so excited this morning! What we are celebrating this morning is anything but ordinary!
Excited enough to sing stanzas fourteen and fifteen: “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.” Amen.