Vom Himmel Hoch

There are several Christmas hymns that supposedly were first introduced on Christmas Eve, December 24th.  One of the most famous was one which was written by none other than Martin Luther.  That hymn was Vom Himmel Hoch…..or in English, From Heaven Above.  Although not everyone agrees on the exact year, many indicate that Martin Luther wrote this hymn in 1534.  He wrote it for his family.  They had a tradition in the Luther family to have Christmas Eve family devotions, and Martin Luther would often pen a new hymn for that occasion.


Martin must have been especially energetic the year that he wrote this hymn because he wrote 15 verses.  The first seven verses are supposed to be sung by an angel visitor, with the following verses sung by the children in response to the angel.  The verses written in German can found here:


In 1855, this German hymn was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth.  You can find the English words here:


I find it interesting that another German Christmas hymn was introduced on Christmas Day, December 25th aboard the Olbers in 1838.  A book of hymns was printed before the Saxon immigrants had left Germany.  When it came time to celebrate Christmas on the ship, this Christmas hymn was sung.  Gotthold Guenther told in his journal about that Christmas Day aboard the Olbers.  Here is an English translation of that journal entry.

There was very warm weather on Tuesday, December 25th, the first day of Christmas celebrations. While in the old homeland the cold of winter might paint frost flowers on the windows, here on the Olbers the sultry winds of summer prevailed. Oh, but many an emigrant would have preferred the icy cold to the pleasant warmth if only he could have returned to his former abode.
The sermon for this important ceremony was delivered by Pastor Stephan and the song of the Stephanists glided over the peaceful waves of the sea like a greeting coming from the familiar homeland:

Now sing, all glory to God on high!
Thy Christians are here on the sea,
Singing our praise with the heavenly host
For the time of our Savior is nigh.

As Noah rejoiced on the mountain peak
After forty days in the ark,
The dove of peace returned to him
With an olive branch in its beak.

Unto the Lord let our voices reach
At Christmas time here on the sea,
May the angel descend upon us now
And bring us this symbol of peace.

To God the Creator all honor
Father of sky and land and sea,
A son now sleeps in a manger
His godhood imparted by Thee.

O Lord Jesus, O holy child,
Let this ship be your cradle mild,
In your divinity come to stay
As we celebrate Christmas day.

Think of us in your tiny berth,
Be our guide upon this earth.
A cradle for Christ, let us abide,
May power and wisdom here preside.

In joy we remain poor and few
So, dear child we can be with you;
In your godhood you rule us all
Not from a palace, but a stall.

Deliver us from war and strife,
In your godhood we find life,
When the deluge recedes at last
May our ship come to Ararat.

After forty days endless rain
Let our ship forever remain,
Let Noah’s dove come to the peak
With the sign of peace in its beak.

When comes the final Judgment Day
Let the rainbow show us the way,
Grant, O Lord, we may see your face
And stand upon the side of grace.

But the eye of many a father was damp when he thought about the homeland and how the children jubilantly jumped around as Christmas gifts were distributed, even if they were modest gifts.—That was all over now. Here there was no Christmas tree to delight the poor children, who sadly pressed themselves up against parents lost in their own thoughts.—For them it was a melancholy Christmas night!

I find it interesting that the author compares their voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to Noah’s Flood.

I also find that this verse of the Stephanist hymn……

O Lord Jesus, O holy child,
Let this ship be your cradle mild,
In your divinity come to stay
As we celebrate Christmas day.

is so similar to one of the most endearing verses to From Heave Above, verse 13……

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Here in my poor heart’s inmost shrine,
That I may evermore be Thine.

I cannot guarantee that I will be able to post a blog tomorrow, so today it is my prayer that your hearts will always be a soft bed for the Baby Jesus to rest.  And maybe your family will enjoy the same family tradition of the Luthers as you find devotional time on Christmas Eve.  Merry Christmas!

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