Hymn Guide: Mary, Did You Know?

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Yes, Mary knew.

Ok, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In this article we’ll consider “Mary Did You Know?,” exploring not only its history, but also seeking to answer the question the song asks.

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With lyrics by Mark Lowry in 1984, and music by Buddy Greene in 1991, “Mary Did You Know?” is a contemporary song that has become a classic. Lowry wrote the lyrics for a Christmas Play at his church, the questions interspersed between different scenes. Aware that he had a powerful concept, he spent multiple years looking for the right music, and finally collaborated with Buddy Greene when they were on tour together with Billy and Gloria Gaither.

Verse by Verse

The song opens with the title question, “Mary Did you Know?,” a question which, depending on how you count, the song will ask 10+ times. Yet, the song never seeks to answer its question. This lends it a sense of contemplation or even wonder, and beguiles us with an invitation to consider the mystery of a baby who, in time, would be revealed as both God and savior.

Mary, did you know that your baby boyWould one day walk on water?Mary, did you know that your baby boyWould save our sons and daughters?Did you know that your baby boyHas come to make you new?This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you

Still, we can go further to actually consider what Mary would have known when she gave birth to baby Jesus. She didn’t know the concrete details of Jesus’ public ministry, but she had been told the general outlines by Gabriel, and even more was revealed at the nativity, then more by Simeon at the Presentation.

So let’s consider the particular questions that the song asks. First, walking on water: no, Mary would not have known that degree of specificity. So the score is 0-1. But what about Jesus saving our sons and daughters? Yes, Mary knew this, and not only because Gabriel gave the name “Jesus,” which means savior (Luke 1:31). Also because the angels told the shepherd that a “Savior” had been born (Luke 2:11), and then the shepherds likely passed this message on to Mary (how else did it get into the gospel of Luke?). Now it’s 1-1. But perhaps Mary did not know yet that Jesus would make her a new creation, so we’ll score the third question in the negative. Now it’s at 1-2.

Mary, did you know that your baby boyWill give sight to a blind man?Mary, did you know that your baby boyWill calm the storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boyHas walked where angels trod?When you kiss your little babyYou kiss the face of God

Did Mary know that Jesus would heal the blind? Yes, in fact. The scriptures were clear that only “the Lord opens the eyes of the blind” (Psalm 146:8), and Elizabeth called Mary the “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). The score is 2-2.  Similarly, it was the Lord alone who could “make the storm be still” (Psalm 107:28-29). So the score is 3-2. And of course Mary knew about the angels – it was Gabriel who appeared to her – and Gabriel had told Mary that Jesus was the Son of God (Luke 1:35). 4-2.

Mary, did you know?Mary, did you know? The blind will see, the deaf will hearThe dead will live againThe lame will leap, the dumb will speakThe praises of the Lamb

This verse sits somewhere between question and affirmation, but we’ll consider two questions here. We already determined that Mary would have known that the blind will see, which in a sense covers the restoration of all the bodily functions: hearing, leaping, speaking. But did Mary know that the dead will live? Gabriel did say that Jesus will reign forever, but it was probably not yet clear that this entailed a general resurrection, so we’ll score this in the negative. 4-3.

And what about praises to the Lamb? Well, the singing of praises is obvious, both given Mary’s song and the song of the angels at the nativity. But the lamb? Well, there are a few clues to the idea that Jesus would be a sacrifice: the swaddling clothes and manger that prefigure Jesus’ grave clothes and tomb. Even more explicitly, Simeon tells Mary in the Temple that “the child is appointed…for a sign to be opposed, a sword will pierce your own soul also” (Luke 2:34-35). This, on the day of circumcision, when Christ first shed blood, prefiguring his later sacrifice. Score this in the positive: 5-3.

Mary, did you know that your baby boyIs Lord of all creation?Mary, did you know that your baby boyWould one day rule the nations?Did you know that your baby boyIs heaven’s perfect Lamb?That sleeping child you’re holding is the great, I Am

Here’s Mary’s knowledge runs away with it. Yes, if Mary knew that Jesus was the Lord, then she knew he was the Lord of creation. 6-3. What about ruling the nations? Well, Gabriel had told Mary that Jesus would “reign over the house of Jacob” (Luke 1:33). And the angels spoke of “peace on earth” through this child, which recalls Isaiah’s prophecy of a “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). And the kicker is the arrival of the Magi, kings themselves from gentile nations, who bow down to worship their greater king (Matthew 2:11). 7-3.

Finally, did Mary know that Jesus was “the great I AM.” On the one hand, Mary did not have a fully elaborated Nicene trinitarian theology. On the other hand, she would have been familiar with the divine name, the I AM, and its replacement in the Hebrew scriptures with the term Lord, or Adonai. So if she knew Jesus was Lord, then perhaps she did know, in an inchoate way, that the Son of God was indeed God. After all, the magi did bring “incense,” which was always burned in prayer to the divine. We’ll give it to Mary, which makes the final score 8-3.

In the end, there’s no question: Mary did know!

On Video

Here’s two versions of the song on video. The first is rare footage of writer Mark Lowry and composer Buddy Greene performing the song together in 1995. This video, only uploaded to YouTube this year, has less than three thousand views, but this early version sounds great compared to many more recent renditions, which have become cliche. The best of the recent versions is the Pentatonix a cappella video, which is now approaching three hundred million views!

Published on

December 24, 2022

Author

Peter Johnston

The Ven. Dr. Peter Johnston is the Ministry President of Anglican Compass. He is a priest and archdeacon in the Anglican Diocese of All Nations and the rector of Trinity Lafayette. He lives with his wife, Carla, and their seven children near Lafayette, Louisiana.

View more from Peter Johnston

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