Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you?
Let’s talk about this song that has become remarkably popular in recent years.
Though many have forgotten, the song was written in the mid-1980s and has a disturbing origin story – having come out of institutions and at the request of people who intentionally promulgate hatred of many of the people Jesus sought out.
What is more, the first half of the song displays little to no biblical literacy.
Most importantly: yes, Mary did know.
In the scriptures, it is clear from the outset that she knew exactly who she carried within her own body. She was a willing partner in this work. And she even prophesies about it when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother.
So yes, it is a problematic song on several levels. And many of you may be wondering if it can be redeemed for any appropriate use?
Yes, with two important caveats.
First, we need to acknowledge that the men who wrote this song were, in point of fact, man-splaining to the woman that God asked to carry God’s own Self within her. She actively gave her consent – and they really think she did not know who her Son was? She knew. (Clearly some who claim to follow Christ missed that part of the gospels and need some rudimentary Sunday School lessons.)
Second, we need to understand that though the song’s origins are questionable, it has taken on great power in our popular culture. And here is why: there is a moment when it displays the truth about Christ’s purpose and work on earth. Because ultimately, God’s voice can ring clearly through any message, no matter how ill-contrived.
Here is the moment within the song that redeems it: the blind will see. The deaf will hear. The dead will live again. The lame will leap. The dumb will speak… That is nearly a direct quote from Jesus in response to John the Baptist about who he is.
The song is also quite powerful in its musicality, even if its lyrics and history are generally lacking. But as you listen to it, remember that the Christ-child was a revolutionary who, from the moment of his birth, reached out to all those deemed untouchable by the political and religious establishment. And yes, Mary knew that, too.
Happy listening – and turning the world upside down!
Lessons & Carols – Low How a Rose