According to the Washington Post, the Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know” should be tabled because talking about Mary’s virginity is part of purity culture, which is destructive for rape victims. But there are far bigger and more accurate reasons to axe this song from Christmas playlists. “Mary Did You Know” is one of these newer Christmas classics that deserves to be called neither a classic nor a Christmas song. That’s because it’s biblically illiterate, and Christmas descends directly from the Bible and the Word made flesh who gave it to us.
“Mary Did You Know” (let’s call it MDYK to make life easier) entered the scene during the rise of the praise and worship Christian music genre in 1991, written and performed by members of the Gaither Vocal Band. The Gaithers, popular gospel singers with a Southern flair, have produced a ton of contemporary Christian music for nearly four decades. Since then, MDYK has somehow become a song not only played on the radio but sung in churches, moving it from generic Christian mistake to doctrinally baffling gaffe.
Anyone actually listening to the words who has even a slight familiarity with the biblical account of Christ’s conception and birth shouldn’t need to ask if Mary knew, because the Bible plainly tells us she did.
Oh, Mary Knew
MDYK is a series of questions, all aimed at asking pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus, various things about her soon-to-be-born son and Messiah. I counted 17 questions, ranging from if she knew that her baby was God himself to questions about his miracles.
Unfortunately, these questions fall in line with the disturbing new trend of presenting the Nativity narrative as a story of Mary being raped by God, and taking turns blaming both Mary and the patriarchy for how women feel during Advent. Together, these ideas question what Mary knew and what she agreed to, and both of these lines of thinking miss the important and pertinent fact that in the Bible Mary herself sings an entire song about her pregnancy.
To answer the questions MDYK poses: Yes, Mary knew she was having God’s Son. Luke 1:30-33, 35 answers this clearly: “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.’”
Yep, Mary knew that her baby boy was God himself. Even easier to answer is whether Mary consented to bear the Son of God. Her response on the subject was: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary Has Her Own Better Christmas Song
History has given us a far more beautiful and accurate song for Christmas about Mary, one that actually confesses the truth about her, God’s plan, and that tiny baby. That song is the one Mary herself sang, and it’s one that churches around the world still regularly sing: the Magnificat, or Song of Mary:
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).
Don’t expect the world to get Mary right when they still can’t manage to get Jesus right on Christmas. Don’t be surprised when pop stars want to sing about Christmas without actually reading the Bible.
Making a Christmas album is not a necessarily a confession of personal Christian faith (see Barbra Streisand’s “Classic Christmas” album). Society has never understood the Annunciation, Visitation, or Nativity, and they’re not going to start now. Instead of getting frustrated at people who think Mary didn’t consent, or that if she did she didn’t know the plan for her baby, go read the gospel accounts of Jesus’s birth where she speaks for herself. It’s enough of a fantastical and amazing story without trying millennia later to add contemporary drama.
Mary shows us a picture of a faithful woman, delighted by the honor God bestowed on her to bear the savior of the world, and that’s how we should remember her.