“Mary did you know” has become a popular Christmas song recently. I like it. I like the idea of being able to interact with a character in the Christmas story, asking questions and wondering what they might be thinking or feeling. For me, wonder is a key component of Advent and Christmas, both the wonder of amazement and the wonder of understanding.
If you, somehow, haven’t heard it, “Mary did you know” is a series of questions, asking Mary, as a new mother, if she knew what her son would do and be when he grows up. There’s mention, in the questions, of some of the miracles from the gospel stories and scriptural references that describe the son of God, but wondering about the answers is left to us.
There’s some controversy about it, though. Some folks don’t like the idea of questioning Mary or her awareness of what was happening. Some just think the song, at best, is redundant. Because the answer is “yes.” Yes, she did know. Read the story. It’s pretty clear. The angel tells her the child will be the son of God and “he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)
Okay, but there’s not a lot of detail there. Certainly Mary accepts the angel’s words (“let it be with me according to your word”) and seems secure in her understanding of the big picture, secure enough to inspire the words “surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:38, 48-49) But I wonder what Mary was feeling about the first steps on this journey and I wonder if she expected that grand description to turn out, in detail, the way it did for her and for her son.
I’m not questioning the presence of the divine in the story, nor am I suggesting that Mary felt anything less than fully trusting in God. But I also think that here is a moment to wonder about the very human characters experiencing this wonder, to come closer to them and their story, a story of meeting God and sharing love in a way that could not have been expected. I want to be part of that story.
The angel didn’t say anything at all about the hardships that were ahead even before the child was born, nothing about shepherds or magi or Herod or how Mary and Joseph, a poor young couple, would provide for the Son of God. And remember, just like so many of the other characters in the story, Mary’s understanding of the messiah they were expecting was likely a warrior-king with wealth and armies that would overthrow the oppressor and restore the glory of Israel. Truly, that would be somebody that would be worthy of “the throne of his ancestor David.” How could that be her son?
Jesus was something different. I’d like to wonder about what Mary thought of that. I’d like to wonder if she had expectations for the future like anyone else or simply the hope – the certainty of hope – that, whatever happens, God is with us and that is enough. Perhaps it was both. I wonder if she could tell us more about that.