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.)