There are a few ways to get folks riled up around the holiday season. Talking religion, politics, and when it’s appropriate to start listening to Christmas music. (Which we all know is the day after Thanksgiving, right?) Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene wrote a song that’s become a Christmas favorite. Mary Did You Know made it’s debut in 1991, recorded by Michael English. This is a beautiful song that draws attention to extraordinary life of Jesus Christ while posing the question to Mary, did you know that it would go this way? While I’m not here to ruin any Christmas favorites, the Bible actually tells us quite a bit about what Mary did know. She knew a lot, thanks to her study of the Old Testament and a visit from Gabriel.
After a brief word of introduction, the gospel of Luke begins by setting up two unusual birth announcements. The first is a barren older woman named Elizabeth. Gabriel announces that she will have a baby which strikes her husband Zechariah as impossible. Then we have a young woman, Mary. She is betrothed to her husband, Joseph. A betrothal was more than an engagement but less than a full fledged marriage. Gabriel announces that Mary will have a baby. Mary is struck with wonder. She’s young, probably around 14, but she knows where babies come from so this seems to be a physical impossibility. Of course it is impossible, apart from God.
Gabriel goes on to tell Mary the she would be the one to deliver the deliverer, the Promised One. This one is the seed of the woman who crushes the head of the serpent (Gn 3.15). Mary is understandably and appropriately overwhelmed.
Mary’s song in Luke 1.46-55 is often referred to at The Magnificat. This comes from a Latin term meaning, “my soul” taking it’s name from the hymn’s opening line. Mary’s song is rich, worshipful, and theologically, a masterpiece. There is much that could and has been said about The Magnificat, I want to make 5 simple observations addressing the question, what did Mary know?
She Knew Her Bible
One of the most impressive features of Mary’s hymn is her constant allusions and references to Scripture. In only 9 verses, there could be as many as 29 allusions to various OT texts. Her mind was shaped by the Word of God. She had learned to pray and think in biblical vocabulary. In fact, many have pointed out that her prayer shares many features of correspondence with another prayer in the Old Testament, the prayer of Hannah in 1 Sam 1. Hannah was barren. She desperately wanted a child. She was eventually given her heart’s desire. Her response to the birth of Samuel is a rich prayer recorded for us in 1 Sam 1.1-10. It is no surprise then, that when Mary receives news about her own “surprise” child, her mind is shaped by this OT prayer.
This is a great challenge for us today. We live in a world where information is always at our finger tips, quite literally. Are we disciplined and intentional to have the Word of God put into our minds? Speaking of John Bunyan, Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you cut him he bleeds bibline.” When your name is CH Spurgeon, you can make up words like bibline. A great word it is. May the same be true of us.
Though she knew the situation was impossible from a human vantage point, she knew about the mighty works her God has done in the past. This gave her confidence for what he could and was in fact doing.
She Knew Her Condition
Mary makes a telling confession in verse 47. She calls God her savior. Now, why would Mary need a savior? Simple, because she was a sinner. The Catholic notion of an Immaculate Conception wherein Mary was preserved from the effects of original sin is foreign to the Bible. Mary knows she needs mercy and grace from God. God’s mercy and grace come undeservedly to her (Lk 1.48-50).
In a world full of entitlement, I fear that some of us have come to expect grace. God does not owe you grace. The Westminster Confession bluntly confronts the grace-entitlement mentality in question #84. Q: What doth every sin deserve? A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life, and that which is to come. (WSC)
She Knew Her Privilege
I feel the typical Protestant urge to caveat this section, noting that Mary is not a co-redemptrix and we should not pray to or through Mary. If we are talking about Hail Mary’s, it should be in reference to a football game. But let’s not forget, Mary was extraordinarily blessed and privileged. She knew the world would look back and see her as being in a uniquely honored position. Let us not fall into the misogynist ditch either. Mary deserves our admiration and emulation.
Mary understood that she was the girl prophesied 700 years prior in Isaiah. She knew that “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1.48). Mary was well aware that this was not a position that she had earned or even deserved. She was one who was in a “humble estate.” The Lord chose to do something mighty through her for his own glory.
Mary seems to have a keen sense of the moment. Even at around 14 years old, she knows that this moment is pivotal in God’s long awaited plan. The entirety of the Old Testament looked forward to the Messiah and now, here this faithful, teenage, unwed mother is being used by the Lord to usher in this climactic moment in Redemptive History.
She Knew Her Son’s Position
Jumping back in Luke just a bit, we know that Mary received information from Gabriel about Jesus’ identify. In verses 31-33, Gabriel explains that this baby will be “great and will be called the Son of the Most High.” He would “assume the throne of his father David.” This description is steeped in Old Testament vocabulary. As mentioned earlier, Mary was comfortable in Old Testament terminology. Ezekiel prophesies that there would be a King who would be after the line of David (Ezekiel 34.23). Her son would reign forever (v 33). Without taking time to fully develop this idea, Mary undoubtedly had a grasp of her son’s position as the long awaited Messiah.
I had a roommate in college who once jokingly asked me if it were a sin to skip the “begat’s” in Bible reading. Those begat passages may not mean much to a Western reader today. It comes across as boring, like reading the Tel Aviv phone book. But we need to understand, the Messianic line was extraordinarily important. If you want to make those begats a little more exciting, after you read a name, say, “We’re still waiting.” Then read the genealogy in Matthew 1.1-17. We are no longer waiting, he is here! Mary got it. Jesus completes the genealogy.
She Knew Her Son’s Future
Each year our family receives Christmas cards from friends all over the place. Often, Christmas cards have a verse reminding us of some aspect of Advent. I have a Christmas verse for you that I would wager to bet has never made it to a card.
After Jesus is born, he is presented at the temple as was customary. They find a faithful man, Simeon, who had long waited for the “consolation of Israel” that is to say, the Messiah. He is ecstatic to meet baby Jesus. He took Jesus in his arms and offered a beautiful song of praise to God. Joseph and Mary marveled at this special moment. Then Simeon has a word to say to Mary. Luke records: “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2.34-35). Imagine Mary’s thoughts, “Ummm, so I was with you on the rising and falling, but a sword pierced through my own soul?” Imagine that Christmas card, “May a sword pierce through your soul, Merry Christmas.” Mary was raising the suffering servant.