“Away in the Manger”

Children love to sing and it is a special blessing to have songs even the youngest can enjoy in the church.  “Jesus Loves Me” comes to mind quickly as a song we love to hear the little ones sing.  But at Christmas time, there is nothing better than “Away in the Manger.”  In 1887, James R. Murray included this in a book of songs he published and called it “Luther’s Cradle Hymn.”  Murray had been an Army musician in the Civil War and went on afterward to work for a publishing company.  We don’t know if he heard the story somewhere or what, but the song became known as the song Martin Luther sang to his children as he tucked them in at night. 

The only problem with the story is that when the German people came to the United States, they had never heard the song.  There is no real evidence that it was ever associated with Martin Luther in any way.  In fact, no one had heard of it before Murray included it in his songbook. 

The music for the version we are most used to was attributed to a man named Carl Mueller in a songbook called “Word and Song” during World War One.  But again, there is a mystery.  There is no evidence that Carl Mueller even existed.  Like the words, the music simply showed up. 

Today, the credit is given to James Murray himself, although most scholars doubt that he wrote it.  He was apparently the kind of man who would have enjoyed having people know that he wrote the words and music for the song.  He certainly had no trouble taking credit for other music he wrote.  The best guess is that he found the little song somewhere and had no idea to whom he should give credit.  He did the best he could, but it appears that this song was simply a gift to the children from the Lord who loved them. 

(I am particularly indebted to the book “Stories behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins which you can purchase here.  These are not direct quotes, but a good deal of the information has come from that book, which I highly recommend.  Some of the stories are from my research.  The stories may or may not be accurate, partly because the legends have grown over the years, but I offer them as a word of blessing for the Christmas season.)

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2 responses to ““Away in the Manger”

  1. graceandgiggles

    In a recent issue of Christianity Today, there was a question asked of a few people, “Should churches not sing Christmas songs that don’t have correct doctrine in them?” One person answered, “Away in a Manger, with the lyric – But little Lord Jesus no crying He makes – that is not Biblical, so maybe we shouldn’t sing it.” When I read that I thought, “Oh you’ve got to be kidding me!”
    Thank you for these Christmas Carol histories, it’s been fun and educational. I read recently that carols were initially sung to help people who can’t read understand the nativity story. Have you heard that too?
    Merry Christmas Dave! Thank you for helping us understand grace better!

    • I wonder what percentage of things we hear in church are not “Biblical?” That was a phrase often used to keep good things out and let bad things in. Not that I mean Biblical things are bad, just that the legalists always think their way is Biblical and ours is not.

      These carols reflect the heart of the church through the centuries. No matter what doctrine is presented in the church at the time, no matter what political groups are in power, we are called back to the simple message of God’s love in Jesus.

      I have not heard of that reason for Christmas carols, but it certainly sounds reasonable to me. Remember that it wasn’t until quite recent history that people actually owned their own Bibles. Small errors may have crept into the stories, but the point remained: God loves us and sent His Son!

      Merry Christmas!

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