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TLH Hymn 85 “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come”


Can you guess what all the following products have in common? Victor Radio (early 1920’s), Hotpoint Appliances electric range (1928), DuMont Electronics television with AM/FM/Shortwave radios (1948), RCA Victor televisions (1963), Kodak Camera (1977), and Godiva chocolates (2016)?
Hint: the common element showed up in their Christmas advertisements in the years in parentheses. For another clue, here’s the actual ad copy used by the first two companies I listed: “When you go to your Victor Dealer’s to hear the three models of Victor-radio, you will find them beautiful, compact, and soundly built, as become Victor instruments. You will recognize them as the gift that keeps on giving.” “Give Mother what she really wants this season, this all-white Hotpoint electric range. A gift that keeps on giving!”
“The gift that keeps on giving.”
That may well be one of the most effective advertising slogans ever used to motivate buyers, and it has been used by many companies over the years. But it’s not true, is it—at least not in connection with material gifts. Ultimately, they all stop “giving.” However, there is one Christmas gift that does, indeed, “keep on giving,” because it is the only gift of infinite value and eternal consequence. That Christmas gift was given two millennia ago, in Bethlehem of Judea, and it’s a gift for all people. It is the gift of God Himself—both the giver and the actual gift—and its consequence is forgiveness of sins and eternal life in heaven. That alone is the gift that keeps on giving.
Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come” celebrates this gift and its consequences. “He will on you the gifts bestow/ Prepared by God for all below, / That in His kingdom, bright and fair, / You may with us [the angels announcing Christ’s birth to the shepherds] His glory share.” (v. 3) Verse 6 invites us to be partakers of the gift: “Now let us all with gladsome cheer / Go with the shepherds and draw near / To see the precious Gift of God, / Who hath His own dear Son bestowed.” The gift of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, to be our Savior is uniquely “the gift that keeps on giving.”
Quite unlike the gifts you may find under your Christmas tree this month, the gift that keeps on giving did not come adorned with fancy paper and elegant bows. Although true God and King of kings, the Gift came as a baby, born in the humblest of circumstances, surrounded with hay and straw instead of velvet and silk. Perhaps this suggests to us that the “worldly” matters of wealth, honor, and power are ultimately of no lasting importance. “Ah, Lord, who hast created all / How weak art Thou, how poor and small/ That Thou dost choose Thine infant bed/ Where humble cattle lately fed!” (v. 9) “For velvets soft and silken stuff / Thou hast but hay and straw so rough, / Whereon Thou, King, so rich and great, / As ‘twere Thy heaven, art throned in state. And thus, dear Lord, it pleaseth Thee / To make this truth quite plain to me, / That all the world’s wealth, honor, might, / Are naught and worthless in Thy sight.” (vv. 11 & 12) The things of the world all pass away, but God’s gift of a Savior keeps on giving.
A gift of infinite value and eternal consequence, and one that keeps on giving. How then shall we, recipients of this gift, respond? Perhaps our best response would be that of the shepherds. “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2:20) “My heart for very joy doth leap, / My lips no more can silence keep; / I, too, must sing with joyful tongue / That sweetest ancient cradle-song.” (v. 14)
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.