Hymn Parade – Away in a Manger (1882)
How do you see the face of Jesus – as a baby, man, friend, Savior?
Luke 2:7 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes; I love Thee, Lord Jesus! Look down from the sky, and stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray; bless all the dear children in Thy tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with Thee there.”
Although many have credited Martin Luther with “Away in a Manager” as his “Cradle Song” it is unlikely that he actually wrote this song since there is no known copy written in German. However, the carol came to America through Lutheran immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania. It was first published in March 1882 in The Christian Cynosure under the heading of “Luther’s Cradle Song” and identified as the song Martin Luther sang to his children. The musical setting is also debated between the most common one composed by William J. Kirkpatrick in 1895 and the one by James Ramsey Murray in 1887.
Christmas became America’s third national holiday (after Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day) in 1870. After the Civil War, Americans looked for a holiday that would unite everyone and the symbols of decorated Christmas trees, wrapped gifts, Santa Claus, cards, carols, nativity pageants, and the theme of the gift of salvation emerged in American culture. There was a strong religious expression in this holiday which united the people in America’s growing cities and rural communities. Away in a Manger is considered to be an American song! The song became very popular in Sunday School and public school programs for Christmas.
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (1622)
The following excerpt is from Martin Luther’s Christmas Day sermon in 1522.
“But the birth itself is still more pitiful. There was no one to take pity on this young wife who was for the first time to give birth to a child; no one to take to heart her condition that she, a stranger, did not have the least thing a mother needs in a birth-night. There she is without any preparation, without either light or fire, alone in the darkness, without any one offering her service as is customary for women to do at such times. Everything is in commotion in the inn, there is a swarming of guests from all parts of the country, no one thinks of this poor woman. It is also possible that she did not expect the event so soon, else she would probably have remained at Nazareth.
Just imagine what kind of swaddling clothes they were in which she wrapped the child. Possibly her veil or some article of her clothing she could spare. But that she should have wrapped him in Joseph’s trousers, which are exhibited at Aix-la-Chapelle, appears entirely too false and frivolous. It is a fable, the like of which there are more in the world. Is it not strange that the birth of Christ occurs in cold winter, in a strange land, and in such a poor and despicable manner?
Some argue as to how this birth took place, as if Jesus was born while Mary was praying and rejoicing, without any pain, and before she was conscious of it. While I do not altogether discard that pious supposition, it was evidently invented for the sake of simple minded people. But we must abide by the Gospel, that he was born of the virgin Mary. There is no deception here, for the Word clearly states that it was an actual birth.”
It is well known what is meant by giving birth. Mary’s experience was not different from that of other women, so that the birth of Christ was a real natural birth, Mary being his natural mother and he being her natural son. Therefore her body performed its functions of giving birth, which naturally belonged to it, except that she brought forth without sin, without shame, without pain and without injury, just as she had conceived without sin. The curse of Eve did not come on her, where God said: “In pain thou shalt bring forth children,” Genesis 3:16; otherwise it was with her in every particular as with every woman who gives birth to a child.
Grace does not interfere with nature and her work, but rather improves and promotes it. Likewise Mary, without doubt, also nourished the child with milk from her breast and not with strange milk, or in a manner different from that which nature provided, as we sing: ubere de coelopleno, from her breast being filled by heaven, without injury or impurity. I mention this that we may be grounded in the faith and know that Jesus was a natural man in every respect Just as we, the only difference being in His relation to sin and grace, He being without a sinful nature. In him and in His mother nature was pure in all the members and in all the operations of those members. No body or member of woman ever performed its natural function without sin, except that of this virgin; here for once God bestowed special honor upon nature and its operations. It is a great comfort to us that Jesus took upon Himself our nature and flesh. Therefore we are not to take away from Him or His mother any thing that is not in conflict with grace, for the text clearly says that she brought him forth, and the angels said, unto you he is born.”