Ahh, holiday classics. Gotta love them. Or hate them.
It’s that time of the year when countless people are belting out holiday tunes as the spirit of Christmas kicks into high gear. Some of those songs elicit good feelings of times gone by, some are thought provoking and emotional, and some are… mind bogglingly off.
One such holiday song is the ever popular, Mary Did You Know?
If your church hasn’t featured the song yet, don’t worry– there’s still a Sunday left before Christmas, and my magic 8 ball says “signs point to yes” as to whether or not this Sunday you’ll hear an amateur rendition of the song that asks:
Mary did you know, that your baby boy would one day walk on water?
Mary did you know, that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
That sleeping child you are holding is the great I am?
Okay, so I can see how many people find the song beautiful and that it might have a lovely melody, or whatnot. But I gotta say, each time I hear us asking those questions as if they don’t have an answer, it leaves me wanting to shout, “Yo, can we rewind this for a second? I’m pretty sure we skipped the first scene of this movie.”
Because yes, folks– Mary did know.
In fact, Mary was the first to know. She knew before everyone else.
The song Mary Did You Know was originally written by Mark Lowry of the Gaither Vocal Band in 1984. Lowry had attended Liberty University (which explains a few things) and wrote the lyrics as part of a church play where he came up with a list of questions he would like to ask Mary.
And while his lyric writing led to a hit song that is now a holiday classic, the essence of the line of questioning he has for Mary is already answered in the birth narrative of Jesus.
If we start the Christmas story at Luke 2, the questions in the song make more sense– but that’s not where the story begins. When we rewind and begin with Luke 1 and pull in some Matthew 1, we find that yeah— Mary knew. Maybe not every question in the song (such as knowing if Jesus would walk on water), but she certainly knew the answer to the big questions before anyone else did.
From the birth narrative Scripture tells us:
- Mary knew the child was miraculously from God via the Holy Spirit. (Luke 1:31,35)
- Mary knew her baby was to be “Son of the Most High,” “Son of God,” and that he was holy. (Luke 1:32,35)
- Mary knew her baby was the promised Messiah and that he would be king forever (Luke 1:32)
- Mary knew her baby would save the people from their sins as the Mighty Savior promised by God (via Joseph’s dream and Zechariah’s prophesy at the end of her first trimester, Matthew 1:20, Luke 1:69)
- Mary knew her baby was the Lord and the incarnation of God. (via Elizabeth, Luke 1:43, Matthew 1:22-23)
These are all things Mary knew at the beginning of her pregnancy. Furthermore, she had those things solidly confirmed, and perhaps grew to know even more, on the night of his birth, at his dedication in the temple, and at the visit of the Magi:
The night Jesus was born, that which she knew was confirmed by the shepherds, affirming Jesus was the Lord and Messiah (Luke 2:8-14). At his dedication in the temple Simeon and Anna affirmed that, not only was Jesus the savior of Jews, but would be for gentiles as well (Luke 2: 25-37); Mary was told that the story she was about to live was going to “pierce her own soul, as well,” and if there were any doubt about what she knew, having Magi show up a few years later and start worshipping her kid was pretty much gravy at that point.
I love Christmas, so I’m all for whatever gets you in the festive mood– but I have to be honest: the more I sit with the questions in this song, as powerful as it may be, the more I find them insulting.
I mean, we don’t ask the men in the story if they knew, and they all had considerably less information than she did.
We don’t ask if Zechariah or Joseph knew, because we’re all like “Yeah, of course they did– they were visited by an angel in person or in dreams who told them,” as if they were the only ones.
But yet we ask if Mary knew, when the clear answer is:
Um, yeah Mary knew. Mary was the first of us to know, and she knew a ton– way more than the men.
So like I said, it’s Christmas! Listen to whatever puts you in the mood.
Whatever music we enjoy, may we at least be thoughtful consumers of concepts and ideas— and let’s not forget that we can answer most of the questions asked by one of the season’s most popular songs.
Did Mary know Jesus would walk on water? I’ll concede that one, but the rest are clear:
Yes, Mary knew her baby boy would save our sons and daughters.
Yes, Mary knew her baby boy was Lord of all creation.
Yes, Mary knew her baby boy would one day rule the nations.
Yes, Mary knew that sleeping child she was holding was the great I Am.
I can see that Mary knew of the impact her son would make on the world but I wonder-did she know what was going to happen to Him at the hands of the Romans? Did she know of all the pain He was going to go through, that He was going to die in one of the most gruesome ways possible? If she did, did she know it all at once? I’m asking because, while I don’t have kids, I doubt I would be able to handle knowing the details of how someone I love is going to die.
I’ll take that bet (My sources say no).
After reading this blog post I did some Googling and found that complaining about this song seems to be an annual tradition among Christian bloggers (kind of like complaining about the Starkbucks cup or complaining about the people who complain about the Starbucks cup), with Mr. Corey repeating the same complaints others have made over the years (with some added, gratuitous condescension for Christians Mr. Corey doesn’t like, natch). And then there’s people who defend, or partially defend, the song.
A good back-and-forth on the pros and cons took place at The Federalist in prior years:
Apparently, Catholics don’t like it either because it conflicts with the idea of the Immaculate Conception.
Personally, I don’t care for it. But I don’t think the vast majority of songs written after 1940 or so should be sung in church.
Thus the question remains: Do U.S. Evangelicals know that Mary was the first to know?