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I have received a number of responses to my request for your favorite Christmas carol. Several people have mentioned “Away in a Manger.” This is a sweet, consoling, peaceful carol that fits the mood of quiet Christmas Eve services. Though often attributed to Martin Luther, there is no evidence that he wrote it.

The carol captures the relaxed, holy quiet of the stable after the birth of our Lord. Imagine the exhaustion of Mary and Joseph having walked for three straight days of the census. In Bethlehem they were startled and dismayed to find no place in the inn. Now at last, Jesus born, Jesus asleep, the young couple finally knows peace. They are still, among the animals in the stable, ready finally for a night of sleep.

The first verse captures the dire straits of our Lord’s birth, “Away in a manger no crib for his bed.” The world had no place of the savior. The only welcome he found was among the beasts out back.

"Away in a Manger"
Away in a Manger,
No crib for His 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 poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus
Look down from the sky
And stay by my side,
'Til 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

This carol is dear to so many people because it transports us to the manger. The cattle are lowing. The baby is asleep then awakens. You can almost feel the straw and hear the munching of the cattle.

Some theologians say the carol is heretical because of the line,
“no crying he makes.” They argue that Jesus would not be truly human if he didn’t cry. Leave it to the theologians to miss the sweetness of the carol! They say it makes Jesus sound super human. This would be the heresy of “docetism” which believed that Jesus only appeared to be human, but was not, that he was supernatural. But other observers of human nature say that no, babies sometimes awaken and don’t cry right away.


Let’s just let the sweetness of the carol wash over us. The theologians can return to the important discussion of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. (I am a theologian, by the way). (I hope you understand this is a joke.) (Sort of.) (When something as moving as this little carol appeals to so many people, why ruin it by picking it apart?) (It is poetry after all, right?) (As to whether or not, “no crying he made” when the cattle “lowed” we can ask him when we get there.) (Let it be for now)

My favorite verse is the last one. 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.

Now the theologians can be happy with this verse because it is sort of a confession of sin. If we ask Jesus to “fit us for heaven” we are confessing we are not fit and need help – forgiveness and renewal for heaven.”

So there.

But asking Jesus to stay close to us and asking that he bless
all the dear children” is as sweet as it gets. And that he fit us for heaven to live there with him.
And just one more thing. You have to love the name of the tune to which the carol is sung. All hymns have names, but then the music to which they are sung, the tune, has a name. Do you know what the name of the tune for “Away in a Manger” is? “Mueller.” Look it up. Can’t beat that!

Please pray with me. “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 three there. Amen.”