the story behind mary did you know

Christmas: The Story Behind “Mary, Did You Know?”

Hi, friends. Today’s post is the last installment of my annual Christmas series. So far, we have analyzed the expectation of a messiah in Israel and tied the hymns “O Come O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus” to that concept. As we celebrate Christmas Eve, we will glimpse at one more hymn.

The history of the hymn

Madonna, Raphael, 1505

“Mary, Did You Know?” is a modern classic recorded by countless artists across multiple genres. Mark Lowry wrote the words in 1984, and after spending years perfecting them, he asked Buddy Greene to write the music in 1991. Lowry was a member of the Gaither Vocal Band (a famous southern gospel group), and Greene was touring with them. The song first appeared on a Michael English album in 1991; English was also part of the Gaither Vocal Band.

Lowry was inspired to pen these lyrics as he put together a Christmas program for his church. Here is a quote attributed to him–

I just tried to put into words the unfathomable. I started thinking of the questions I would have for her if I were to sit down and have coffee with Mary. You know, “What was it like raising God?” “What did you know?” “What didn’t you know?”

Though I can’t verify the validity of this, a supposed interview with both Lowry and Greene sheds more light on the back story.

[Random tidbit: A Madonna is a portrait of Mary with or without baby Jesus, and a PietΓ‘ is a depiction (usually sculptures) of Mary holding Jesus’s dead body.]

Connecting the hymn to the theme

PietΓ‘ , Krakow, 1400

Since Mary was a Hebrew and shared the messianic expectations of her people, I would assume she did not know all Jesus would be and do. When the angel Gabriel told her she would birth the son of God/savior of the world, I imagine she expected her son to be a prophet and king greater than any before him; however, she could not have anticipated the way his life, ministry, death, and resurrection unfolded. Some of the Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah performed miracles, so perhaps Jesus healing diseases or walking on water wasn’t completely mind-blowing. But when it comes to submitting to torture and a brutal capital punishment, who could ever think this was the fate of the savior of the world? When Jesus reconciles human sin, defeats death, and rises again, His earthly suffering pales in comparison to His ultimate, eternal victory. We are left with new definitions of freedom, love, and strength.

The song poses questions without answers since we are unsure what exactly Mary knew and expected. A detail to the nativity story which has always intrigued me is the statement that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart.” As we celebrate Christmas, I hope we will ponder HOW Jesus redefines freedom, love, and strength. No one could have predicted the path of the savior of the world, but thank God for the life, death, and resurrection of the world’s messiah!

Lyrics:

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
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you've kissed the face of God
Mary, did you know?
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding is the Great I Am
Oh, Mary, did you know?

Thanks for reading, and Merry Christmas!

This version is gorgeous–talented vocalists and a crazy-good pianist!

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