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HYMN 277 Away in a Manger/Mitt Hjerte alltid Vanker

Text: Anonymous. Tune: James Ramsey Murray (1841-1905)

The Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco--1614

1. Away in a manger No crib for His bed The little Lord Jesus Lay down His sweet head

The stars in the sky Look down where He lay The little Lord Jesus Asleep on the hay

2. 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

3. 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.

My Heart is filled with Wonder/Mitt Hjerte alltid vanker

Hans Adolph Brorson (1674-1764). Norwegian/Swedish folk tune

1. My heart is filled with wonder,

To think how poor, forlorn,

The manger was for Jesus

The night that he was born.

And yet it is my treasure,

My hope, my faith, my light,

I cannot ever leave you,

O blessed Christmas night.

2. This stable, dark and dreary,

Shall be a palace rare,

Each day I’ll learn to seek it

Instead of earthly care.

Here I have found the flower,

The Rose, for which I yearn,

When I remember Jesus,

My heart within me burns!

Adoration of the Shepherds Carravaggio 1609

3. A wonder unlike any

That I have ever known!

To think that God Almighty

Would leave his heav’nly throne,

To sleep in this dark stable

Without his kingly crown.

To think that God Incarnate

From heav’n would come down.

4. You should have had a heaven

Spun into quilts for you,

A torch of stars for keeping

The Son of God in view.

A legion of bright angels

To sing you lullaby,

You should be swathed in purples,

The King they prophesied.

5. A sparrow’s place of hiding

Is in her quiet nest.

The swallow need not wonder

Where she will find her rest.

Nor does the lion worry

Where he can lay his head.

Why should my God be sleeping

Upon a borrowed bed?

6. O come, my heart, be open,

Lift high your long-shut gates.

Invite into your presence

King Jesus, who awaits.

This is no foreign dwelling

But one that he has bought.

O come to me, Lord Jesus,

And change my troubled heart.

7. I would bring fresh palm branches

To lay upon your bed.

For you have come to save me,

To suffer in my stead.

My soul breaks forth rejoicing

This happy Christmastide.

For you are born within me

And fill my heart with light.

Tr. Gracia Grindal


These two popular hymns focus especially on the manger scene. Away in a Manger and My Heart is Filled with Wonder, from a collection of Brorson's Christmas hymns. Its poetry is peerless: personal and biblical. We hear images of Palm Sunday, Jesus’ comment In Matthew 8:20 that "foxes have holes, and the birds of the air nest, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head." And then the Rose.

Editors of the last two hymnals in the ELCA rejected it. They did not give any reason, other than a slight issue with my translation which I fixed. Unfortunate. Not long ago pastors in Norway and Sweden voted it as their favorite Christmas hymn and one can see that in the many Youtube performances of it.

Mary and Joseph with the baby just before the shepherds arrive. Emil Nolde from his Life of Christ group 1911-1912

Both hymns wonder at the poverty of Jesus. The poetry in stanza 4 of Brorson contrasts the richness Christ deserved and his poverty. It is a ravishing image, a conceit, really. The image of the sky as fabric that could be spun into a quilt is impossible but grand.

Brorson is one of the great three hymn writers in Denmark, known as the Poet of Christmas. He wrote his first set of hymns to bring Christ back into Christmas. Four of them at least are still beloved in the Nordic countries and one here.(For more on Brorson and his Christmas songs see HYMN 262 and HYMN 274) It is amazing, given the thousands and thousands of hymns for Christmas, that these endure and feed the hearts of so many still.

I love the line from Away in a Manger: Fit us for heaven. Jesus came to make us holy, to sanctify us and save us so we can be with him forever. Brorson, instead of asking the Lord to make us ready to go to heaven, wants the Lord to move in and make us ready by changing our hearts. This is the language of Jesus in John 14:23 where he promises that he and his Father will make their homes in us. Brorson ends this hymn with that image. Christ will be born in us to bring us light. Brorson named his collection of hymns, a rare treasury of faith (Troens Rare Klenodie). His hymns are that; and so is the one he worships.

James Ramsey Murray


Away in a Manger was first printed in 1882 in a journal The Christian Cynosure. Attributed to Luther, we do not know who really did it. The third stanza was added to the original, maybe by Charles Gabriel. By the 1890s it was featured in many a Christmas pageant. It has been sung to many tunes, but the one that is most popular in America appeared in a book of songs for children by James R. Murray. Since the tune was attributed to no one, the thinking is he wrote it. A member of the Sunday school movement, he was a gifted composer and translator. Working for the John Church Company he translated, edited, and produced five volumes of the music and texts to Wagner’s operas published by the company. He suffered a nervous breakdown after that, some think because of the enormous amount of work.

Brorson’s hymn appeared in his 1732 collection of Some Christmas Songs—Nogle Jule-salmer. It came to Norway in 1834, cut down to seven stanzas from eleven. The original last stanza has a vivid image of the Bride of Christ kissing her bridegroom, something modern hymn compilers reject. As Stig Holter, the writer of the latest Dictionary of Norwegian Hymnody, asks, why cannot our most intimate human relationship serve as metaphor for our relationship with Jesus? He gives no answer.

The melody is a Norwegian variant of a Swedish folk song. It was sung at the wedding of Crown Prince Haakon Magnus and Mette. The Danes sing the text to a tune by Carl Nielsen.


Away in a Manger

Libera from Ireland

Pentatonix—Strange video, but 15 million visits


Marie Boine singing the hymn in Sami at the wedding of Crown Prince Haakon Magnus and Mette Marie in the Oslo Cathedral August 2001

Carl Nielsen tune/Akademisk Kor Århus

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