By Christian Young, Susannah Black, Jon Coppage, and Jon Askonas
Today we will be discussing a much loved, but also much hated, Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?”
Christian Young: I’ve taken the liberty of kicking off the discussion with a line by line proposal of what Mary did or did not, in fact, know.
Mary, did you know that…
- your baby boy will one day walk on water? No
- your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? Yes
- your baby boy has come to make you new? Yes
- this child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you Yes
- your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? No
- your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? No
- your baby boy has walked where angels trod? Yes
- when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God Yes
- the blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again No
- the lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb No
- your baby boy is Lord of all creation? Yes
- your baby boy will one day rule the nations? Yes
- your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb? Yes
- this sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am Yes
In general, I tried to keep to the biblical text, specifically Matthew 1 and 2 and Luke 1:1-2:38, when Jesus was still a “baby” or small child. So lines 1, 5, 6, 9, and 10 are unknown to Mary because, while she did know a lot about Jesus and his purpose, she didn’t know the specific miracles he would perform during his ministry.
Susannah Black: Christian, I want to push back on your assertion that she didn’t know any of the details. The general resurrection was expected, after all; cf. Hannah’s prophecy in 1 Samuel 2:6 and, notably, Job’s expectation. And then of course with regard to the blind and the deaf there’s Isaiah 29:18.
Therefore, I’d have to say for line 9: yes, she knew (she was no Sadducee), but not with any degree of precision.
Christian: I think that analysis applies to line 10, as well, especially if we consider them in their metaphorical sense, as representations of salvation.
Speaking of Isaiah, line 13 assumes that Mary was well-versed in the prophetic literature, particularly the Suffering Servant songs. As a young woman, however, this is not a given, so we should treat this “known” cautiously.
Additionally, your reminder to place Mary firmly within the Jewish context has me rethinking my answer to lines 8 and 14. After all, Mary is still a Jew, and the idea of God as three persons would have been totally foreign to her at this point. She knew that Jesus was the servant of God, would be called the Son of God, the Messiah of God, but I don’t think it would have entered her mind that he would be God in the flesh. Any other comments?
Susannah: There are other elements here that need to be teased out. Let’s look a little more closely at lines 3 and 4.
- Line 3: your baby boy has come to make you new?
- Line 4: this child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?
Yes, she knew; the timing/sequence of this is debated, though it is notable that there is no disagreement on the fact of the matter. Please see common arguments related to how a person can be saved from falling into a pit.
Christian: Excellent point. We won’t make any firm conclusions on the timing of Mary’s deliverance out of ecumenical charity.
Some other notes for discussion, line 7 assumes a metaphysical understanding of heaven as a plane of existence whereupon a being could “tread” on something with physical and spatial mass, which is a thoroughly contested idea.
Any other thoughts on “Mary, Did You Know?”
Jon Coppage: The rhetorical device of questioning to intensify the implicit answer is entirely valid, and throwing mud at it is a sophomoric-at-best seeking of separation from mainstream culture.
Christian: Thanks, Jon. Your objection to this exercise is noted.
Jon Askonas: I feel like this whole mess could have been avoided if someone had just read the Magnificat.