From Heaven High
Martin Luther wrote five “Christmas carols.” (Contrary to what you may have heard, he did not write “Away in a Manger,” which first appeared in Pennsylvania in 1884 in connection with the celebration of Luther’s 400th “birthday.”) Presented here is a song that Roland Bainton describes as Luther’s “most childlike” carol, a characterization which makes sense since this piece was written for a children’s Christmas pageant. It was first published in 1535, but it was very likely written the previous Christmas when Luther’s eight-year old son (Hans) and five-year old daughter (Magdalena, whom they called “Lenchen”) would have been among the children singing these hopeful and happy words.
FROM HEAVEN HIGH
From heaven high I come to earth. I bring you tidings of great mirth.
This mirth is such a wondrous thing that I must tell you all and sing.
A little child for you this morn has from a chosen maid been born.
A little child so tender, sweet, that you should skip upon your feet.
He is the Christ, our God indeed, who saves you all in every need.
He will himself your Savior be. From all wrong doing make you free.
He brings you every one to bliss. The heavenly Father sees to this.
You shall be here with us on high. Here shall you live and never die.
Look now, you children, at the sign, a manger cradle far from fine.
A tiny baby you will see. Upholder of the world he.
How glad we’ll be if it is so! With all the shepherds let us go
To see what God for us has done in sending us his own dear Son.
Look, look, my heart, and let me peek. Whom in the manager do you seek?
Who is that lovely little one? The Baby Jesus, God’s own Son.
Be welcome, Lord; be now our guest. By you poor sinners have been blessed.
In nakedness and cold you lie. How can I thank you – how can I?
O Lord, who made and molded all, how did you come to be so small
That you should lie upon dry grass, the fodder of the ox and ass?
And if the world were twice as wide, with gold and precious jewels inside,
Still such a cradle would not do to hold a babe as great as you.
The velvet and the silken ruff, for these the hay is good enough.
Here lies a prince and Lord of all, a king within the ass’s stall.
You wanted so to make me know that you had let all great things go.
You had a place in the sky; you left it there for such as I.
O dear Lord Jesus, for your head now will I make the softest bed.
The chamber will this bed shall be is in my heart, inside of me.
I can play the whole day long. I’ll dance and sing for you a song,
A soft and soothing lullaby, so sweet that you will never cry.
To God who sent his only Son, be glory, laud, and honor done.
Let all the choir of heaven rejoice, the new ring in with heart and voice.
(Text and translation taken from The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated and arranged by Roland H. Bainton, Philedephila: Westminster Press, 1948. A new edition is available from Augsburg Press: http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Luthers-Christmas-Roland-Bainton/dp/0806635770)