We all have those “Christmas traditions” that have to happen in order to feel like the Christmas season is truly upon us.
For some, it is the day when they put out their Christmas decorations. For others, it’s when that first candle is lit in the Advent wreath at church.
When I was growing up, it was the Sunday of special music at our church when this sweet vocalist from the choir would come and sing, “Mary, Did You Know?” It just didn’t feel like Christmas until those words were sung from the platform.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw an Instagram story from a friend and fellow minister that said, “Spoiler alert, Mary, did in fact, know.”
I know my friend was not the first to come up with this, but it gave me a good laugh. I know many friends who feel that this song is simply “mansplaining” to Mary about something Mary already knew so much about.
And the truth is, I think they are 100% right.
The Gospel text for this week (Luke 1:46b-55) focuses on Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth. And looking at this story through the lens of the words of “Mary, Did You Know?” may give us the definitive answer that, yes, she did, in fact, know.
The scene is a familiar one. Mary has gone to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Both women are pregnant at the time of their meeting. Mary is pregnant with Jesus and Elizabeth is pregnant with John (who would later be known as John the Baptizer, or as one of my favorite professors put it, J the B.)
In the story, J the B leaps for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth knows this child her cousin is carrying will be special.
The next part of the scripture, often referred to as the “Magnificat” or Mary’s Song, is a rare poetic moment in the Gospels. In this song, Mary details what she is feeling about the child she is carrying, praising God and rejoicing in the goodness of God.
And it is in these verses that I think we find the true rebuke of “Mary, Did You Know?”
In the NRSV translation, verses 51-53 read, “[God] has shown strength with [God’s] arm; [God] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. [God] has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; [God] has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”
What a powerful testimony and vision about what God was doing through the birth of this child that Mary was carrying.
This child would be the one to fulfill that good work that God was up to in the world. This child of Mary’s would be the one to scatter the proud, lift up the lowly, feed the hungry and take care of the poor while sending the rich away.
I have not and I never will be a mother. I do not understand the intimate connection a mother has with a child while that child is in their womb, but I have to imagine that connection is deep and profound.
Mary’s song in Luke 1 tells me that her connection to her child was a powerful one. She understood so much more than anyone else what Jesus was going to do and what Jesus was going to be about.
And her understanding should say something to us as well. In asking if Mary knew that Jesus was going to walk on water, maybe we are asking the wrong question.
What if we asked Mary what Jesus was going to be about and what he would do? Perhaps we could listen to her song and realize that Jesus was going to do wonderful things that would turn the world upside down.
As I think about all the times I heard “Mary, Did You Know?” during the Christmas season growing up, I never once considered how Mary actually felt.
In revisiting her visit with her cousin Elizabeth, I see clearly that Mary did, in fact, know way more than I will ever understand. She held the hope and light of the whole world inside her womb.
Instead of asking Mary if she knew, maybe we need to turn those questions back on ourselves.
Do we know that Mary knew so much more than we can ever understand?
Do we know that Mary was telling us all, from the very beginning, that Jesus was going to release the captives, feed the hungry, lift up the lowly and speak to those no one else would speak to?
As I listen to Mary’s song, I now know that I have so much left to listen to and learn.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Advent 2021. One article will be published each week, reflecting on one or more of the Lectionary texts for the coming Sunday of Advent, with a final article published during the week of Christmas. The previous articles in the series are:
Advent Lectionary | Hope, the Thing With Feathers | Kelly Belcher
Advent Lectionary | The Earliest Soundtrack | Richard Wilson
Advent Lectionary | Let Your Joy Be Known | Alyssa Aldape