Mary, Did You Know?

“Mary, did you know? The blind will see. The deaf will hear. And the dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak the praises of the lamb. Mary, did you know that your baby boy is lord of all creation? Did you know that your baby boy will one day rules the nations? Did you know that your baby boy is heavens perfect lamb? This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.”

“Mary Did You Know?” a Christmas song written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, 1997, recorded by numerous music artists

“When God chooses Mary as the instrument, when God wants to enter this world in the manger in Bethlehem, this is not an idyllic family occasion, but rather the beginning of a complete reversal, a new ordering of all things on this earth.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and Christian martyr

            For devotions at the November Session meeting, Mike played a beautiful rendition of the song “Mary Did You Know?” by country-folk singer Kathy Mattea. As I closed my eyes and allowed the music to wash over me, I immediately had this image of Mary holding her newborn child.  And I wondered as does the song’s vocalist, “Mary, did you know?”

            Sure, the angel Gabriel told her she would give birth to the Son of God.  And yes, Mary, responds by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word,” and then a few days later sings of praises to God. But did she know? Did she fully understand the role she had been chosen to fulfill? Did this 12-year-old peasant Jewish girl fully realize that she was to be the mother of God in human form. Did she fully see herself as the mother of Jesus, the one who would turn the world upside down through his life in ministry to the poor and downtrodden, his death on the cross and resurrection over sin?    

            In Luke 2:17-19 we learn that after the shepherds visit (in which they retell their encounter with the angels), “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”  Mary embraced the message and yet still pondered the full meaning of the message for her and her child. 

        A few verses and many years later, we read that the family takes the annual trip to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.  When the festival ended, the family headed back home to Galilee but Jesus, who was now 12, stayed behind in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph realize Jesus is not with them and they frantically go back to Jerusalem to look for their son.  Mary finds Jesus in the temple listening to the teachers and asking them questions. When Mary explains that she and Joseph have been frantically looking for him, Jesus says, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Mary and Joseph don’t understand what Jesus is saying and eventually the family returns home and Jesus is a good and obedient son. And Mary, the gospel writer says, “treasured all these things in her heart.”  Mary treasured her son’s growth and maturity and yet still may not have fully understood the depths of who her son would become and what her son would do.

        While Mary knew Jesus was a gift from God destined for amazing things, I wonder if she really knew her son would suffer and die at the hands of those she was close to, her cousins, neighbors, friends, rabbis.  It’s hard for any mother or parent to think about their own children’s fate. I can’t imagine that given the nature of things in those biblical days that Mary could fathom what Jesus would endure, of what God would do for all people out of a selfless and sacrificing act of love.


        In the book and film “The River Runs Through It” there is a great scene where the old Presbyterian preacher says in a Sunday sermon on I Corinthians (the classic passage about love), that “You can love completely without complete understanding.” Maybe what Mary knew or didn’t know is not so much important as how she responded to her calling to be the deliver of the Christ child, the bearer of transformation for the world.

        Mary may have (understandably) pondered and wondered about the baby she was holding in her arms, about the child she was raising in the poor town of Galilee. And yet even when she might not have had all the answers or seen fully the future that lay ahead for her son, she still clung to her faith and her glorious love for God. “God has shown strength with his arm; scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” Mary loved completely without complete understanding.

        May we also do the same as Mary in the midst of our preparation and pontification during this Advent season.


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