Did Mary REALLY know?
by Jenna Legg
In some Catholic circles around this time of year, there's a running joke about the song, "Mary, Did You Know?" Memes bluntly scream "YES!" Mary did know everything the song questions, thus rendering the song theologically pointless. However, the song was likely not meant to be a theological statement, but more of a mother's reflection on Mary's experience as the mom of Jesus. Perhaps I like renditions of the song, thus leading me to be defensive in hopes that I can listen guilt free. But I would also like to invite you into deeper reflection.
Let's look at the Gospel of Luke, where the angel appears to Mary indicating she will give birth to Jesus. First of all, this is the only Gospel in which Mary is informed of Jesus' birth. Although the conversation between Gabriel and Mary could've been longer, Luke only mentions a few moments. Mary knows that she will bear a son and she is to name Him Jesus and that He "will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High". From this and a few other descriptors, we can assume that Mary knows she is giving birth to the Son of God.
What the angel doesn't mention is the specifics of the life Jesus will lead. Yes, Mary knew that her son was the Messiah, but as she cradled him, kissing him goodnight, I'm not sure she was imagining him walking on water, healing the blind or calming the seas. The Messiah was going to save the Israelites, but in her humanity, I'm not sure Mary could know how that would come to be. And I can almost certainly guess that Mary was not day dreaming about the ways in which her Son would leave this earth (either time).
The incarnation is almost impossible for us to comprehend 2000 years after it happened; even without sin, I imagine it was hard for Mary to wrap her head around as well. How could this small, innocent child be the Son of God? For God to choose such complete vulnerability almost seems foolish. For an all-knowing, all-powerful God, there would have been an infinite number of ways to save us. Why would God choose to become a baby? Why choose Mary?
So, as the song questions, "Mary, did you know?" Well, yes she knew her Son was destined for wonderful things, for saving the Israelites. But what that meant for her, for the world, I'm not sure she could comprehend. I know that I can't, even on good days. Much theological study has been devoted to the incarnation and it's one of the most beautiful mysteries in our faith. And like other mysteries, we are called to reflect, ponder and wonder. But it's precisely that pondering that leads us deeper into the heart of God.
And so as we listen to the song this season, perhaps we can substitute our own names. "Jenna, do you know?" Do you know about the mystery of the incarnation? Can you comprehend that God would become human? Jenna, can you imagine?