One of the first times I can remember consciously and directly questioning the Jesus story was sometime around middle school. I was thinking about how Mary is said to be a virgin, but conceives a son anyway, and the explanation put forward for this is that God in the form of the Holy Spirit is the one who impregnates her. Thus, Jesus is supposed to be the son of God.
It wasn’t hard for me to imagine a more realistic explanation of these events — even assuming that all the people involved really did exist. If Mary was not actually a virgin but was betrothed to Joseph, she would be in big trouble if her “impropriety” was found out. (I didn’t realize how much trouble until later.) Perhaps she was already pregnant from some earlier affair, and told a story about being visited by the angel Gabriel in order to cover up her embarrassment. In a superstitious culture, such a story could go far.
I’m sure most of my readers have had such a realization of their own at some point in their lives. (Some Christians have even stretched to find ways to reconcile for themselves Jesus’ conception out of wedlock with his heavenly parentage. Still, I think the keeping-up-appearances story is more plausible.) At any rate, this issue caused me to chuckle when I heard Mark Lowry’s “Mary, Did You Know?” on the radio a couple weeks ago. I mean … yeah, she probably had some idea of what was going on, whatever that might have been.
It’s apparently very popular. A number of performers have covered it, including Clay Aiken, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd. In case you can’t play the video, here’s the beginning. You get the gist.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will 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.
Once I got home and read over the lyrics, I got to thinking about that whole visit from Gabriel bit and decided to check what the Bible had to say on the topic. Turns out, Mary was pretty well in the loop all along. True, she might not have known about each individual miracle the song goes on to mention, but Luke 1 does spend a while on Mary’s celebration of her holy pregnancy. Gabriel told her pretty much exactly what’s up:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
If you believe the Bible, you’ll note that Joseph also got a similar message.
But as he considered these things [That is, whether to divorce Mary for her pregnancy. -NFQ], behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
So, could Mary have had any idea that her baby boy might be a savior? It depends on how dense you think she was — and, I guess, how well you think Mary and Joseph communicated with each other. It seems to me that, even if you set aside the cynical sense I began this post discussing and simply take the Bible at face value, it’s still a rather silly question this song is asking. “Mary, did you know…?” As though her not knowing is something inspiring and beautiful, even though the Bible says exactly how much she was told. Come on, Christians. Glorify ignorance much?