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Sunday, December 13, 2020

Mary, Did You Know?

Full disclosure: I have a higher opinion of Mary than most Protestants.  And so, it is with a bit of trepidation that I entered into this piece.  I have things to say, but first, let’s let Mary’s words speak (or sing) to us:  

Luke 1:46-55, New Revised Standard Version: Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’”

This Advent season, I have noticed an extraordinarily high number of complains rising against the classic (sort of) Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know,” penned by Mark Lowry (lyrics) and Buddy Green (music) and originally released by Michael English on his self-titled album in 1991.  I don’t know if almost 30 years is enough to make something a classic, but I digress.  The question seems to be, did Mark and Michael mansplain Mary, and, if so, what should we do about it?  After taking a careful look at the lyrics (which I probably could have quoted, but I wanted to cover all the bases), I decided it’s about a 50/50 wash.  Yeah, Mary knew some of that stuff, and she didn’t know some of it, and maybe the question was rhetorical.  At any rate, I don’t think the song was intentionally degrading, and I’m probably going to go ahead and keep it in the rotation (but maybe the Pentatonix version).  I’m thankful for the controversy, though, because it caused me to think deeply about Mary… her knowledge… her faith… and her heart.  And that’s really what this post is about.

I love the Magnificat.  I love to read it.  I love to preach it.  Honestly, I just love that it exists.  I love young, faith-filled, faithful Mary, who consents to carry the incarnate, embodied child of God in her uterus.  So, when the songwriter asks, Mary, did you know “when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God,” I think the answer is abundantly clear…  yes, yes, and yes.  

But if we were to ask, Mary, did you know this kid was going to disappear in the temple at age 12, I think the answer shifts.  Y’all cannot tell me that she foreknew Jesus would be briefly misplaced, and, frankly, I’m not going to buy it if you suggest she wasn’t panicked and maybe a little bit pissed.  If you have ever lost a child on a trip, you know full well how the reunion goes.  You are a blubbering mess, tears streaming down your face, because you are certain your kid has been abducted and you will never see him again, and you are certain you are the worst parent who has ever lived.  But then when you do see that little face, all the relief and emotions come out in a tight hug and a lecture about how he had better never, not ever, disappear from at least your peripheral vision, really… ever… again!  And it doesn’t actually end when your children become adults.  It’s the reason for the requested text at the end of the night.  Please… please just push a few buttons, so I know you’re alive and I can get some sleep.  Because the panic of not being able to physically see them doesn’t fade. 

When the songwriter asks, “Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters,” I think the answer, with the understanding that Mary certainly knew the Messiah was kicking her just beneath the ribs, is abundantly clear… yes, yes, and yes.

But if we were to ask, Mary, did you know the savior of the world was going to have an attitude… at age thirty… when you asked him to replace some water with some wine, I think she might have balked.  Seriously?  For real?  What do you do with this kid, who’s like, “Mom… that’s really not what I’m supposed to be doing right now… at least not quite yet.”  I like that Jesus relents.  I like that his first miracle takes place, not because he planned it that way, but because his Mama asked him to do something, and even though he didn’t really feel like it, he acquiesced.  It’s one for the books!  Mary, did you know about the miraculous healings and all the ways in which they would take place?  Maybe not… but she sure knew she taught that kid to set the table.  And then he did…  over, and over, and over again… 

It gets a little trickier after that, because like many of the Jewish people awaiting Messiah, Mary most certainly did not know what it meant for her child to be the lamb. 

Recently, I’ve re-read and re-watched some movies and stories and found myself in different characters than usual, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised when Matthew 12:46-50 hit me a little different the other day:

46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ 48 He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

It's usually one of those “Yay Jesus” moments or one of those “Yay disciples” moments, but as I read this, most recently, it cut deep as I thought about Mary.  Who is my mother?  Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my… mother?  Incredulous.  For, who might that be more than Mary, herself?  Point taken, family is indeed more than just flesh and blood (maybe Jesus even represents this very best), but I cannot get around this paragraph.  I’d like to say I cannot even imagine how Mary felt when those words stung like barbs.  As she stood outside waiting for an audience of her firstborn child and being met with his silence, I have to wonder if her hand brushed over the stretch marks… if she shifted uncomfortably, because she never took off those last ten pounds and nobody remembered what she looked like before they were a permanent part of her… if she thought back to the ridicule of those early days, when she’d just begun to show and her explanation was unbelievable (literally)…  if she peed herself a little bit, or if she just cried.  Mothers tend to have a lot of bodily fluids that just flow whether they want them to or not.  I am dissatisfied that Jesus does not answer her call here, but it’s not the end of the story…

I wonder if Mary thought back to this moment when she was standing at the cross and Jesus publicly recognized her as his mother and provided for her by exclaiming that his dearest friend, the disciple whom he loved, was now her son.  I think the temptation here is to jump ahead too quickly, proclaiming closure, proclaiming repaired relationship.  Maybe it reaches back to Jesus’ words about making things right at the altar before you offer your gift.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that there is no way any of that even mattered to Mary in that moment.  I know she would have traded places with Jesus in less than half a heartbeat, given the opportunity.  Given the chance, she would deliver him again… and again… and again, even if she knew “this child that you delivered [would] soon deliver you.”  I know this, because I am definitely not nearly as fabulous a mother or follower of God as Mary was, and I would spill my own blood over and over again, an unimaginable number of times, before ever accepting the abuse of any of my children as a simple fact I was wise enough to know and acknowledge.  And so, I have to push back on the idea that Mary knew… at least like that.  I don’t think she knew.  And it’s OK to admit that knowing isn’t the end-all solution to everything. 

There’s actually a whole lot of grace in recognizing that most of what we do, we do with limited knowledge.  At our best, we do what we think is right, given minimal details and perspective.  At our very best, we wake up and do it again, adjusting for all the things we got wrong.  And then again.  And then again.

Mary, did you know that being a mother was going to break you in every single way?  Spoiler:  Again, I’m going with no.  Mary, if you knew, would you still say yes?  I can’t actually answer for Mary, but I think so, because I would.


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