Mary Did You Know?
If Your Culture Is Stuck, How Is It Stuck?
Mary, Did You Know?
The popular song “Mary, Did You Know” is even more popular since the extremely talented Pentatonix recorded it on their Christmas album. The song asks a series of rhetorical questions to Mary about the life of her son, Jesus.
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?
The implicit answer is “no.” The song asks the question as if Mary could not possibly know what lay ahead.
As a leader in ministry, maybe you can relate.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend a hilarious meme circulated about being a pastor. You may have seen it—Tom Hanks dressed as Mr. Rogers representing the first day in ministry and Tom Hanks struggling to survive in Cast Away depicting the third year. How can anyone know what ministry has in store?
But even though Mary did not know all the details of what God was leading her into, and even though she could not anticipate all that would happen or all that she would feel, there is a lot that Mary did know, and we can be encouraged by knowing the same three truths.
First, Mary knew that she was called.
Mary received her special calling in a very direct and clear manner. An angel told her, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of this father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33 NIV).
Mary knew her calling. This sets her apart from Zechariah in the previous chapter. Zechariah was a faithful priest who was chosen one day to light the incense in the temple as a physical way to honor God. An angel appeared to Zechariah to let him know that his wife Elizabeth, Mary’s relative, would bear a child. But he didn’t believe, so the angel struck him mute. Zechariah didn’t believe, and he was silent. Mary did believe, and she sang a song.
God’s calling on our lives is not always clear or expected, but it is knowable. Before the angel spoke to Mary, she already knew for certain that God would do exactly what he promised since the Fall of humanity—he would deliver his people and make all things new. Nevertheless, Mary did not yet know that she personally was called to deliver life—not only physically by delivering Jesus but by delivering life through him to the whole world! It is much easier to believe that God will fulfill his promise to bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation in general. But it is a completely different thing altogether to realize that God wants to use you to bring about that promise.
There was nothing special about Mary, a poor girls from a working class family. In fact, she was probably the exact opposite of what people were expecting: a warrior, a king, a ruler of royal blood to reign over Israel. You too may be looking around at all the people who you think are worthy of the call. But God has put a special call on your life just as he did on Mary’s life.
Second, Mary knew she was called, but in addition, Mary knew her calling would be hard.
How did she know? When she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to dedicate him as their firstborn, Simeon told her that “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).
Although we have perception of Mary as “meek and mild,” she was one tenacious and resilient woman. Let’s review a few moments in her story.
Mary was subjected to the scorn and judgment of being an unwed mother. She was subjected to disgrace as even her fiancé planned to leave her.
At nine months pregnant she was sent on a grueling journey to Bethlehem. Our Christmas cards depict her on a donkey, but the Bible doesn’t. More likely, she walked the 70 miles from Nazareth.
Once she got to Bethlehem the only place she has to rest and deliver the baby is in a cave or underdwelling of a residence where the animals were brought in at night.
Then Herod wanted to kill her baby, so she and her family flee on another grueling, desperate journey to Egypt. She became a refugee. For those of us who have never been refugees, it is hard to imagine what it is like, but Mary’s experience was not dissimilar from the experiences of refugees in our chaotic world today.
Twelve years later, when Mary and Joseph visited Jerusalem for the Passover festival, they actually left Jesus behind in the city. Can you imagine the anxiety of trying to find your twelve-year-old son in the midst of huge crowds moving on dangerous roads, hoping he hasn’t been kidnapped and sold into slavery?
Mary was present at the agonizing, humiliating, and hours-long execution of her son. She was present for what is called “the passion of Christ.”
Passion comes from Latin root pati-, meaning “suffering” or “enduring.” Passion is something that is deep in our hearts, something so important, something we feel so deeply about, that we are willing to endure pain for it. Passion is so much more than something we are merely interested in. Passion is what fuels Mary as she walked through scorn, physical exertion and discomfort, persecution, fear, and heartbreak.
Passion fueled Mary’s calling, and it fuels our calling.
This is why Mary’s song of joy and praise at being called by God to bear his Son—commonly called the Magnificat after its first word in Latin—is so remarkable (Luke 1:46-55). It is hard to appreciate. When she answers God’s call to be a part of his rescue mission, why does she break into song? I like the way New Testament scholar NT Wright explains it:
Perhaps it would be the news that someone close to you, who had been very sick, was getting better and would soon be home. Perhaps it would be the news that your country had escaped from tyranny and oppression, and you could look forward to a new time of freedom and prosperity. Perhaps it would be seeing that the floods, which had threatened your home, were going down again. Perhaps it would be the message that all your money worries, or business worries, had been sorted out, and you could relax. Perhaps it would be the telephone call to say that you had been appointed to the job you had always longed for.
Whatever it might be, you would do things you normally would not. You might dance round and round with a friend. You might shout and throw your hat in the air. You might phone everybody you could think of and invite them to a party. You might sing a song. You might even make one up as you went along. If you lived in any kind of culture where rhythm and beat mattered, it would be the sort of song you could clap your hands to, or stomp your foot on the ground.
“Now,” says Wright, “read Mary’s song like that.” Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is an expression of joy and excited praise of God.
Mary sees the big picture of God’s rescue mission. She sees the powerful connection between her story and God’s story in such a way that she offers this song of praise. In fact the only time we see Mary between Jesus’ birth and when she appears at the foot of the cross is a wedding party. The host runs out of wine, which could bring real disgrace to the family. And Mary tells the staff, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). She knows that there is a greater, more powerful story at play.
Third, Mary knew she was called, and she knew that it would be hard. But Mary knew that she would never be alone.
We can only imagine Mary’s pain as a mother as Jesus was hanging on the cross. John’s gospel says that “when Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, the disciple took her into his home” (19:25-27).
In this moment, Jesus demonstrates that we are all family in God’s kingdom. John and Mary are now bonded as family. We don’t have to be born into a particular family (like the pastor’s family) or born in a particular part of the world or ethnic group. God calls all people to be family through him. Anyone who accepts Jesus is a new creation and a member of this beautiful, messy family.
John’s Gospel is a powerful reminder that God has done a new thing in Jesus. He has brought about new creation and new relationships that extend from this new creation.
Mary was never alone. Even though it was dark and scary at times, she lived in the community of a family forged through following Jesus. In Acts 1:26, of those disciples who stayed in the upper room when they returned to Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension, Mary is the only one other than the eleven apostles to be mentioned by name. As understandable as it would be for Mary to be drowning in grief at never seeing her son’s face again in this life, Mary is showing up and participating in prayer with all the others who are mystified and wondering what to do now.
Mary knows that she was not alone. And no matter what God calls you too, you will never be alone for long either. God will always call others into your life so that you all can walk out your calling together.
While Mary clearly didn’t know everything, she did know what is most important: we are called, it is going to be hard, and we are never alone. That is just as true for us today as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the great inbreaking of the divine into our world this Christmas.
We welcome you to engage with the Younique community as we equip people to know and name their own special calling from God.