I’m sorry if you really like it, but I think Mary, Did You Know? is the least biblical, most sexist Christmas song ever written.
Least biblical because if you reeled off the 17 patronizing questions contained in the lyrics of that song to the real Mary, she might have thrown a rock at you.
The real Mary, who had tramped heavily pregnant 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to give birth in a stranger’s home, and who then hauled her child 400 more miles to safety in Egypt, well, she wasn’t one to be trifled with.
More than that, she was under no illusions as to who she had just given birth to. Listen to the song of praise she sings upon discovering the enormity of the task that has befallen her:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever. (Luke 1:47-55)
Can you imagine asking that warrior-woman, “Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?”
Of course, she did!
Don’t sing, “Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb? / That sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.”
She knew alright. She knew because the angel who appeared to her told her:
“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.’ And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’” (Luke 1:30-33)
Stop singing, “Mary did you know? Mary did you know? Mary did you know?”
She not only knew, she willingly consented to the angel’s remarkable calling, saying: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
But not only is Mary, Did You Know? unbiblical, it’s pretty sexist too.
One of the most common expressions of everyday sexism is the infantilization of women. That is, the treating of grown women as though they’re children. Infantalization is a means of controlling women and perpetuating the myth that without a man (a father figure), they are incapable of caring for themselves or exercising autonomy.
And that’s kinda what this song does to Mary. It treats her like a clueless child.
The golden era of infantilization was the 1950s when television shows like Father Knows Best and I Love Lucy portrayed women as ditzy and childlike, while men were seen as wise and moderate.
In I Love Lucy, the main character, played by Lucille Ball, was routinely treated like a child by her husband, which included patronizing and demeaning language and, in some cases, taking her over his knee and spanking her. All to a laugh track.
This, of course, was era when advertising reinforced these stereotypes like this:
But still today, it’s still nothing to hear a 25-year-old woman referred to as a “girl”. Similarly, some people use the term, “girlish” to positively describe women, as if being youthful and immature are attributes women should aspire to. I guess, some people just prefer them to remain girls — gullible and childlike.
And nothing makes me cringe more than a grown woman referring to her father as “Daddy” (I’m looking at you, Ivanka).
All that to say, I reckon Mary, Did You Know? might be the most infantalizing hymn ever written.
We regularly ask children, “Did you know…?” — Did you know your daddy played football at high school? Did you know the LA Dodgers used to be based in Brooklyn? Did you know President Trump used to be a reality TV star?
And we use that slightly higher register when asking kids questions. You can just hear it when the songwriter asks Mary, “Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? / When you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God.”
As we’ve already established, she knew! But I can’t help but feel as though these questions are somewhat gendered.
Could you imagine a song asking Abraham 17 times if he knew he’d be the father of a great nation? Would we sing “David, did you know you’d rule the kingdom of Israel?” We know both men knew this because God revealed it to them. But to the woman, Mary, we sing a condescending Christmas song asking her if she had any idea what on earth she was doing.
In Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye, the main character, controversial painter Elaine Risley, becomes obsessed with Mary. She paints a rather strange portrait of Mary, depicting her as a woman in an overcoat with the head of a lioness. Describing her painting, Risley says, “If Christ is a lion, as he is in traditional iconography, why wouldn’t the Virgin Mary be a lioness?… My Virgin Mary is fierce, alert to danger, wild. She stares levelly out at the viewer with her yellow lion’s eyes.”
69 thoughts on “Is this the least biblical, most sexist hymn ever written?”
I like reading your posts, Mike. Well, most of the time. You are insightful and clear. But on this one — Mary did you know? — “Let it go, Mike. You ain’t gonna win this one, even if you are right; even if you are exceedingly right.”
If you keep harping you’ll just be blowing hot air, big boy. You keep yapping about your theological acumen about modern Christmas songs and you’re not going to get any eggnog.
Your big insights would be like me saying, “Can someone please tell me why we keep singing ‘Silent Night’ year after year. Good grief, I’ve had it with that hymn that makes so many believers feel warm and fuzzy. They sing it arm and arm. They get all cozy, lovey and teary-eyed. I am done with all that. Do these people have no theology? It should be called ‘Violent Night.’ We should sing ‘Violent, holy night. All is not not calm. All is not bright.’ Don’t these crazy, sentimental Christ followers understand the that Jesus’ birth was an invasion onto enemy territory?”
See what I mean, pal? You got a let people have their traditions, and even sing their special Christmas songs, even ones that may not meet your high theological standards.
So knock it off, Mr. Christmas-theologian-in-residence, or were going to make you sit in a corner all by yourself, read Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” and write 1,000 times on a piece of ugly Christmas stationary: “I am a scrooge. … I am a scrooge. … I am a scrooge.”
DDF, I thoroughly disagree with you! You sound like you might be a middle aged man (I could be wrong on the age) who doesn’t want to be bothered with rethinking his views on the sexism in the world, and the subtle ways that it is perpetuated. Mike Frost is willing to learn and grow as a middle aged man himself, from what I can tell by his blogs. Songs, ads, movies, television, churches, etc. etc. are vehicles that have driven the sexism and oppression of women down through the ages. Spending time thinking through the things that influence us is a worthwhile thing to do.
Recently, the song “Santa Baby” has come under fire because it hints at condoning men who act as predators of women, not willing to take no for an answer. In the conversations I’ve heard and read about that song, there is the same kind of pushback from men who don’t want to look at the woman’s perspective–they want things to go on as they always have, with the songs that they know and love, regardless of what how they might demean someone else. This is not how things ever change…
Just want to clarify that I realize Santa Baby is not a Christmas worship song:)
I’m a bit confused. Did you mean “It’s Cold Outside”, which I’ve heard people complain about in the terms you mention, instead of Santa Baby? I don’t understand how Santa Baby is about men not taking no for an answer.
So, you can make a perfectly legitimate theological critique of Silent Night, but I’m Mr Christmas-theologian-in-residence if I critique Mary Did You Know? I’m lost.
Mike’s post gave me hope. DDF’s comment brought me back down to sad reality. Not only does he not “get it”, it seems there was never even a HOPE of him getting it; he has his opinion, and came scurrying down to patronisingly give us all a taste of it. “Big boy?” “Yapping?” “Pal?” Give us a break, DDF.
Many Christmas songs are so astoundingly theological that they regularly bring me to tears with the awe of them. “He rules the world / with truth and grace / and makes the nations prove / the glories of his righteousness / and wonders of his love…”; “True God of true God, Light of Light eternal / Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb / Very God, Begotten, not created / O come, let us adore Him…”; “Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace / Hail the Sun of Righteousness! / Light and Life to all he brings / Risen with Healing in his Wings…”
Mary, did you know? is not among them. THANK YOU, Mike, for calling this out as yet one more trapping of old-style thinking we need to leave behind. THANK YOU for not listening to those who think we should let things slide in the name of “tradition”. Thank you for actively advocating for change. It’s appreciated 🙂
Holy shiznit – are you for real? It seems that the assessment; correct IMO, of Mary Did You Know as a sexist song, has hit a bit nerve for you Mr DDF (there is no doubt that you are male) and so you try to belittle and infantilise (literally) Mike with your words. What you have achieved is to show your own insecurity. As a theologian Mike is going to write theological critiques – to expect anything else is kind of weird.
Excellent comment. We have enough superior, masculine, ‘theologians’ strutting their stuff.
Get over it. Songwriting, poetry and is one of the arts…do you over analyze every Psalm, too?
Hi Mike, thanks for teasing the lyrics out, could never figure out why I never liked singing along to this catchy tune!!
Mary was bold and brave in her trust in God’s goodness.
Speaking of angels appearing to women with important messages, my current favourite story is Judges 13, where an angel appears to Samson’s mother Ofmanorah (sorry, wife of Manorah, she doesn’t get her own name) who tells her that she will have a son who will be dedicated to God and save his people from the philistines. Also not to drink alcohol, eat unclean food or cut her hair.
Husband: ‘Oh Lord, if this was your messenger, please send him again to tell us (“me”) what to do. God: sends angel again to woman while husband is not there!!!
Wife: runs and gets husband.
Husband: ‘tell us what we need to do for the baby boy.’
Angel: ‘just do what I’ve already told the woman.’ (Did you even listen to her the first time?) Reiterates the plan.
Husband: prepares a sacrifice and both get terrified when the angel ascends to heaven in the flame.
Husband: ‘aaaarrrggghhhh we’ve seen the face of God, we’re going to die!!!!’
Wife: ‘ummmm, no, we’re not going to die, because (1) he accepted the sacrifice, and (2) we have to have the baby and raise him first, you know, like that’s the main point of the angel coming here.’
Cracks me up every time I read it. I really wonder why all of those details are in there.
I guess I’ve always though of the song as rhetorical. Not questioning if Jesus’ mom understood- that would be abnoxious- but allowing us to contemplate, and maybe “hop” into Mary’s shoe and imagine…
IF I were to listen to the song from your perspective, I’d probably agree with you. But as a mother, the song actually elicits super powerful emotions and a sense of awe, gratitude and admiration.
… but what do I know anyway?!
Shannon I had your back until the passive-aggressive thing at the end.
Thanks Mike, these days it takes me a little while to work past some of the occasional click-bait, but I have to agree with your summation.
As a worship leader who generally gets rostered on for the “big Christian events” I have to choose wisely and musically. I would never and have never done that song.
There are so many that represent the Jesus story so well that actually allow us to worship rather than having Christmas day pageantry in song.
Yah, Brett, I can see where you might think of my last line as snarky and passive-agressive. I’m fairly comfortable with confrontation and healthy debate.. I guess I should have put one of those winky emojis, or just left it out. I guess my sense of humor isn’t always becoming. My apologies.
Totally agree about never singing this song in/or during church worship EVER! Good call
Shannon nails it. The lyrics of the song are surely meant to be rhetorical because of course Mary knew. The beauty of the song is not in being patronising to Mary but in leading us to try to imagine what Mary’s knowing was like, and what she would see unfold while holding on to that knowledge.
Yes, it is possible to sing this song in a sexist and belittling way towards Mary, but that’s not the only option. And wouldn’t doing so simply reveal something of the heart and mind of the singer, rather than the song?
By the way, Mike, I could imagine a song “asking Abraham 17 times if he knew he’d be the father of a great nation”. It’s a great idea for a song!! Seriously. Abraham believed God’s promises, but did he know exactly how they would be fulfilled and what they would like?
Nothing at all in the song suggests the questions are rhetorical. That’s your take on it, and you might be right, but there’s no lyric that shows that. As for the Abraham song, if it’s such a great idea, why hasn’t someone written it? Because we know Abraham knew his destiny. Well so did Mary.
You are correct, Mike, nothing suggests rhetorical thinking. It’s just the way I’ve chosen to interpret the song.
I’m not Romans Catholic in my thinking of Mary, but as a Protestant, I firmly believe we don’t spend much time thinking about who the person was that just happened to be Jesus’ mom. During Advent I always take time to reflect on Mary… what it would have been like to bear, raise, and also watch her son (who happens to be the Messiah) be crucified.
I am a huge Mary fan, I have great love and admiration for her and this song just allows me to think on her, that’s all.
I totally agree Shannon‼️‼️
I agree with Shannon too. After all, what would it be like, imagine, having that much favor with God Himself, as Mary had. She had to be tough and in daily awe!
Thanks Mike, I take the questions to be rhetorical because we know clearly from Scripture that Mary did know. I am not an English major but is that not the usual context for a rhetorical question? The question is being asked for effect, in this case, to express wonder, amazement, awe.
As for the Abraham song, there aren’t many songs about Abraham that I can think of – only one comes to mind 🙂 – but there are plenty that involve Mary. So, the lack of a comparable song, for me, is not evidence of sexism or belittling surely, but more a consequence of less focus for Christians on Abraham. But perhaps I am too naive…?
In other words, you don’t know whether the questions are rhetorical, but you’d like to think they are.
Marko, unlike you and Mike I’m completely sure that Mary and Joseph did NOT know. They show it clearly in Luke 2 “Luke 2:48-50 NASB
When they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously looking for You.”  And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”  But they did not understand the statement which He had made to them.”
You have to weigh that against Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Mary could still have known her son was the Messiah without immediately putting two and two together when she was in a blind panic searching for him in Jerusalem.
Lighten up everyone. It’s just a song….
Shannon, I’m certainly not a mom (grandpa actually) I agree completely. The song puts flesh and blood odors and culture at the point where Mary her Son are most human and vulnerable. It’s kind of like were are getting revisit the manger scene! Thanks
Shannon, I agree with you. The song is not to question Mary, who herself was born free of original sin so she could be the mother of our Lord, but to bring those facts to the listener to contemplate. I think it is one of the most beautiful Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. Imagine the Creator of the entire Universe coming to earth as a helpless little baby.
Guest 4579 well said
Totally agree with you, Shannon. I love the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” Gives me chills. And I think my response derives from being the mother of a baby boy, whom I carried, birthed, nursed, and loved. We cradle our babies and contemplate what their lives will be. Mary had no clue as to how the specifics of the promise of birthing the Messiah would be played out — like “walk on water.” She foresaw that? Of course not. Sometimes, some people can be too intellectual. Truth can also be conveyed in the heart and soul.
I was thinking along those lines Karen … sometimes in our “learning”, we become too heavenly-minded that we become no earthly good. Did Mary understand the entirety of it all when it happened? Hmmm, it’s a thought. I like to ponder the question of the writing of this song from the perspective of Luke 2:19 when Mary (who some say was between the ages of 12-16 at Christ’s birth) was taking into consideration the enormity of everything taking place, to the things to come. When we gain knowledge it doesn’t necessarily mean we have an understanding … that’s my battle with continuing the educational process of theological studies. We do have to be cautious with bias, eisegesis, proper exegesis, and a host of other things that can cause us to miss the bigger picture.
It’s a heretical song. The lyrics express disrespect toward Mary of Nazareth, mother of the Lord. Mary was born to Anne when she was old and barren. She was informed by Gabriel about the Christ. She knew everything. This song can not be allowed in any church and house to be sung or played.
Abishek – where is the evidence that Mary’s mother was Anne and that she was old and barren?
I agree, as a WOMAN, I don’t feel it sexist at all! It’s quite odd to me that a man, who has no idea about the feelings & emotions that a mother internalizes, can make a call like this!! Sounds to me like, he’s stepping out of his area of expertise!!
Mike, I think we know that many things in life are not explicit, but we often make suppositions given context and the info we do know. I think it is fair to wear the lenses of rhetorical questioning or patronizing,sexist nonsense, depending on where you are in your life and what is going on in our world and culture. Neither is right or wrong and that is the sheer beauty of interpreting any art, music or poetry.
Are was introduced to you as Mike. Is that your preference or is it Michael?
With all do respect it seems clear to me that the issue is terminated by by verse 50. They did not understand the statement He made to them.” After 12 years they did not know that He was about His Fathers business.
Luke 2:19 says Mary “pondered” pondreing is what you do when you don’t know what TO do. At least that’s the way it works for me.
Please allow to suggest that “lawyer think” (a home made term) is not a good idea in such a discussion as this. It’s not available to all of us and………
Mark 10:15 NASB
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
Luke 18:17 NASB
Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.”
I am a proud supporter of women not being trivialised or infantilized and I appreciate your concern and respect for women Mike but it is my belief that this song was never meant to be patronizing. In fact the lyrics written by Mark Lowry were out of awe and respect for Mary’s position.
In his words: ” 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 & have coffee with Mary. You know, “What was it like raising God?” “What did you know?” “What didn’t you know?”.
I do like the song as it gives me opportunity to think and reflect on Mary’s journey. I find some Christians songs almost tell me what to do or how to worship.
Julie Meir well said thanks!
It’s all rhetorical. And it’s just a song. Wonder why it’s caused such a stir.
I’m an award-winning songwriter. Though I’m not Catholic anymore, I must say that this song has nothing to do with your point of view about the way Mary is treated in the song.
This song does 2 things:
1. The questions are not to be answered but are ‘rhetorical’.
2. Related to point 1, the purpose of the song is to actually teach the unconverted about whom that baby boy actually was. The questions were not put to Mary in the song, but to the listeners.
I actually wished I was the writer of that song. But you’ve just given me a great idea. To write a similar song putting the question slightly different to both David and Abraham, and other male figures like Moses, that teaches how God can use simple men to achieve His holy purposes, and it could be just anyone living today.
I am always intrigued by how many interpretations of ANYTHING (biblical or not) can have so many different interpretations depending on who is doing the interpreting. If the author is dead we cannot know for sure. If the author is alive (in this case, Mark Lowry is still living), why not ask him what he had in mind when writing the song (i.e., rhetorical questions or not, questions about understanding facts or forms and fulfillments of the facts, etc.).
I am not, however, intrigued by how “discussions” of this nature quickly degenerate into very ugly exchanges by followers of the Christ, each one trying to outdo the other. (and yes, I know, I am “asking for it”)
Thanks Scott and Shannon 🙂
Yes! Also, Mike realized that inthepanic of searching for her son, Mary may not have put two and two together. Similarly, caring for a baby, raising a toddler, being caught up in human emotion and ecstasy of motherhood may have prevented her from continually pondering in her heart all that the angel had told her. So there must have been moments she temporarily forgot the enormity and certainty of the divinity and destiny of her child and Lord.
This is the kind of conversation that more Christians need to be having. True to the story of God and culturally spot on! Thanks Mike
Chad B, Marko, Shannon Scott, thanks!!
Liner notes are so helpful aren’t they?
Here’s a liberated woman speaking, who knows who she is in Christ, and where she belongs in this world, and what I want to say is REALLY?!?!? I have so many comments I don’t even want to get started. But I’ll say this- how about we focus on the beauty of the words and the reality of the astounding incarnation and rejoice that Mary was a part of it- and she knew it! The focus of the song is not Mary, it’s Jesus and who HE is. Must we pick a fight about EVERY STINKING THING?!?!
Mike Frost do you prefer “Mike” or “Michael”? I was introduced to you as “Mike” by a fan of yours!
Hey Vicki, I have made several comments on this blog post and I too am secure in my identity as a female and one “in Christ,” and that is always a good place to be for sure. I also agree that this song is not about belittling or patronizing Mary.
However, this isn’t about arguing in a negative way. We are all allowed to have our opinions and we can also disagree with one another without it being a “fight.”
I don’t think Mike would write this post just to start an argument or fight. From the brief amount of time I’ve known Mike, I truly believe he is passionate about leveling the playing field and the humanization of people. And I think this song probably speaks into a very real place and a very real struggle he sees in the world.
I don’t believe he is trying to start a fight, but trying to put a voice to some real serious issues. I see him a being brave and vulnerable and I appreciate his gumption and tenacity.
We don’t have to agree with one another, and we don’t have to avoid having tough conversations. This is important stuff and we need to be talking.
You see where I’m coming from?
Yes, I do see where you’re coming from Shannon. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I did react strongly because I was feeling strongly. These kinds of discussions ARE important and in fact, my husband and I do community work where we are constantly trying to raise awareness of inequality- probably more in the area of immigration and racist attitudes. I guess I am just feeling WEARY of feeling like so many people are looking for ways to be offended. I don’t know Mike so maybe this doesn’t apply to him at all. You do know him and I trust your opinion of him. Part of me was just thinking, “If we could sit Mary down here right now, having experienced the One true God incarnate, would SHE be asserting her rights, her personhood, feeling offended or belittled? Or would she be saying, ‘Look at HIM!! Look at HIM!!! It’s not about ME!'” All of those “questions” to Mary were not about Mary- they were celebrating the fact that her little baby was God! I’m quite sure she REJOICED in that! Anyway, my 2 cents. Thoughtful discussions are important. I just know that for me, I can get so consumed with my rights and my reputation and how others view me, that I forget to look up, and gaze at the God who chose to lay aside his rights. I will continue to enjoy the song! =) Blessings to you and to Mike!
Found the liberal SJW. Merry Christmas.
Why are you so crabby, Jack? This comment adds nothing to the conversation.
The problem is not addressing serious issues. It is looking for serious issues where they don’t exist. Then the real issues end up getting minimized and trivialized. If this song were really an example of patronizing and condescending sexism, the title would be, “Mary, Didn’t You Know?”
Even the apostles who walked with Him for 3 years and believed who He was didn’t really get it until after the resurrection and ascension. And even decades after that, they finally got that He was a Messiah for ALL people (not just the Jews). And they were all men!
You can know and believe who someone is without really understanding the details that will include.
Mike, you might be right. But, it is a pretty song; especially when my daughter sang it to herself last night loud enough to be heard as I was walking in the hallway past the closed door of her room. I stopped and thanked God for my daughter and the beauty of the season. I’m not going to let your critique ruin that moment for me.
So, no matter what she sings, You’re cool with it as long as it sounds pretty?
Mike … Your comments got you a write up already in Wikpedia’s enttry on this song MDYK
I notice another writer thinks similarly …. Why ‘Mary Did You Know’ Is The Most Biblically Illiterate Christmas Tune
Here is Mark Lowry’s story about how he came to write this song etc
In his comment on the excerpt from Luke, Mike actually pointed out the message of the song: Mary may have mentally known that the child she gave birth to was the Messiah, but how easy would it have been for her to forget while she was nursing him, kissing and bandaging his scraped knees, etc.? Being told that she was bearing the Son of God didn’t cancel out her motherly feelings toward Jesus, and she didn’t automatically know how He would manifest His power during His life on Earth. Those are the points that the song makes.
Also.. I don’t know about everyone else, but in my walk with Jesus I’ve found it to be embarrassingly easy for me to lose my sense of awe at how powerful and merciful and beautiful my Savior truly is. I get caught up in the day-to-day. It’s an exercise in empathy to imagine how much truer that might be if we were the ones to wipe our Savior’s baby butt when He was an infant.
In summary, this song is a call for listeners to reflect on how magnificent our sovereign yet relatable, loving yet just God is. It’s a call for us to place our trust in what He says and commands of us, even when we don’t fully grasp how He will carry out His promises. I love it; it’s a beautiful worship song.
I pray that this little comment thread on the internet brings us all closer to Him. Merry Christmas <3
Here is a balanced, non-accusatory, thoughtful, bridge-building, article on the topic…https://lifeyounique.com/productive-collision-2/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=sharpspring&sslid=M7M0MjA2NzU2NTcxAwA&sseid=M7S0MDE1NjY1MAMA&jobid=b31d93b5-f533-444d-b99c-61b3df6530c9
I can’t see how it takes anything away from Mary or treats her like a child to wonder if/when she realized the meaning of “Son of God” was not just “a miraculous baby given by God to redeem the world” but actually YHWH incarnate. It’s possible that *nobody* grasped that until after the Resurrection.
Or to wonder in what ways Jesus’ life and ministry was like or not like what she had imagined when she first believed the angel’s word and said yes to God.
Is your claim that Mary had actual visions of Jesus walking on water, healing the blind, calming the storm? To me, it would seem to belittle Mary to assume she couldn’t have sung the Magnificat by faith in God’s promise without having literal knowledge of all the things Jesus would do as an adult.
I agree with the article. However, the hook is great. A friend had a crack at new lyrics that lean into Mary’s story and particularly the Magnificat. I think they’re great and thought I’d share it here for you Michael:
Mary absolutely would not have known nearly any of the questions in the song:
One day walk on water? Nope.
Save our sons and daughters? Possibly, but only in the sense that he would be a conquering but then just and fair king of the nations.
Come to make you new? She wouldn’t have understood this.
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you? Or this.
Give sight to a blind man? Nope.
Calm the storm with his hand? Nope
Walked where angels trod? She knew she was raising the son of God but almost certainly did not know he was literally the Godhead incarnate.
You kiss the face of God? She would not know this was literal.
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, The dead will live again, The lame will leap, the dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb? She knew none of this.
Is Lord of all creation? Nope.
Would one day rule the nations? Finally, one thing Mary actually knew. This is what the angel told her.
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb? She possibly knew this one too.
That sleeping child you’re holding is the great, I Am? Again, no, not literally.
As a songwriter, I find the musical composition to be emotionally satisfying. The chord structure and harmonies are significantly more complex than many songs composed for Christmas with a melody that is in a vocal range that most people can reach.
The first time I heard the song (by the Pentatonix) I found the lyrics quite pleasing as well. I still do. While you may have augured the thoughts running through the mind of a new mother at the time of birth, I think you presume to know too much. You have never given birth, as far as I know. All births are a miracle. This one, world-changing. I doubt that an illiterate woman from a small Levantine town had, in any way, your view of things. Her answer to the song, imho, is “לא אני לא”
This is why I can’t stand liberals. The 1950’s scenarios you mentioned are RIGHT. Women need men. My wife needs me to show her what’s right. That’s why I’m man of the house. 25 Year olds ARE girls and boys. My mother referred to her father as Daddy all his life. Stop complaining and relax. Merry Christmas!
Man, this is a whack way of thinking, Jack. I’ve been with my husband since I was 17 years old and I am now 44. He would argue with you that I do not need him to “show me what is right.” Contrary, he would probably say that I am more of the “wise” one in the family… we complement one another. And if you think we must be liberal, I am sorry to upset you, we do not fit into your “little liberal box.”
I do feel a bit sad that your wife has been conditioned to think she needs you to tell her what is right. I’m sure she is a smart woman who has grown up with this patriarchal nonsense.
I think it’s a bit strange to argue this song infantilizes Mary when she was only thirteen at the time of her pregnancy and was hardly a fully matured woman but still a child by today’s conception of human growth and development. I always imagined this song as occurring at a moment before Mary’s visit to Elizabeth and prior to Elizabeth’s exhortation of Mary and confirmation of the angel’s message but after the initial visit by the angel. It would be human to have some doubts, and to need to wrestle with that and stir up ones faith. The Magnificat, Mary’s quoted text from the article, was a response of faith after being given additional support confirming the angel’s words to her. What was in Mary’s mind before her meeting with Elizabeth? Probably some doubt. It would certainly be human. It’s only when Mary met with Elizabeth that the Holy Spirit inspired the words of the Magnificat and the revelation of who Jesus was was truly revealed to her.
Regardless, the song was not written for Mary’s ears but for ours. I think it was written to put us into Mary’s shoes, as well as to remind the listener of who Jesus is. It asks us to reflect on Mary’s experience. To think how we might have responded if an angel came to us with a message like this, and then to look at how Mary responded. To my mind, the song elevates how remarkable Mary was as a woman of faith; particularly at such a very young age. It does not diminish her.
Lastly, while not written by a black composer, this song is written with a characteristic repetitive question in the style of the black gospel tradition from which the Gaithers in general draw their musical legacy. Indeed this use of repetitive questions has deeper roots in black spirituals during the time of slavery; and the song Mary did You know is widely popular in black churches because of its use of black church music idioms. As such, the criticisms of the repetitive questions as a musical choice as somehow anti-feminist is in effect an attack on gospel lyrical traditions of a minority group and I would argue is an essentially racist critique that is entirely insensitive to the history of where this type of lyrical devise in church music comes from.
Some additional thoughts to add to my last post. I would ask Mike Frost to reflect on the song “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” which is another example of worship music using a repetitive question. This 19th century traditional spiritual was written more than 1800 years after the crucifixion when clearly it’s author and it’s audience could not have been witnesses to the event. As in all black church music using the repetitive question device, it’s intent is to the place the listener inside the biblical event , connect the contemporary worshipping individual to the biblical character, and to personalize that event through self reflection and prepare the mind for the coming sermon or biblical lesson. The congregation would sing ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ prior to a reading of scripture on Jesus’s death and a sermon on that topic.
The song “Mary did you know?” asks us to do the same thing. To place us in Mary’s position, and to consider what she knew and who she was giving birth to. The question is never really answered in the song because it isn’t a question to Mary but to the congregation. ( it isn’t meant to teach and provide an answer to what Mary knew but to open the mind to ask and try and discover what she knew through imagination prior to factual discovery through scripture) We aren’t told what Mary knew about her son, but we are given a sense of the immense responsibility she was given as the mother of Christ. In the black church tradition a song like this would precede a reading of Luke chapter 1 and then the audience would learn what Mary knew. I really think if you are going to criticize song literature you need to think bigger than just lyrical content and look at how song literature fits into worship practice and it’s cultural historical and ethnographic history and function. Your critique is very off base here, and frankly some of your criticisms are based in your poor understanding of how this type of song literature is used in a black cultural context.