Everyone seems to have an opinion this Christmas about Mark Lowry’s song “Mary Did You Know?”
“She didn’t know!”
“It’s just a song. Get over it!”
I do not know how much she knew or how much creative license we should give musical artists, but I am intrigued by how Mary responds to the message she receives prior to the conception of Jesus. Her response is instructive to us as Christ-followers and those who help others mature in Christ.
In Luke’s gospel, both Mary and a priest named Zechariah are facing impossible odds of having a child (Mary’s being slightly more impossible). Despite this, they both receive a message from the Lord via a messenger that each will have a son. The impossibility for Zechariah is that he and his wife Elizabeth have been unable to conceive and now find themselves well beyond the age of bearing children. Luke leads us to sympathize with Zechariah and Elizabeth’s hardship. We can understand Zechariah’s hesitancy to believe the angelic messenger. Given their lifelong struggle with infertility and their current age, it makes sense to us that he asks for a sign. However, God expects him to believe the message. So Zechariah receives his sign, but it certainly isn’t what he is hoping for—he is made deaf and mute until his son is born. This short-term judgment falls precisely “because [Zechariah] did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time” (Luke 1:20).
Of course, the impossibility for Mary is that she is a virgin. However, she too is promised a son. She is told that her son will be the Son of the Most High who will rule on the throne of David forever. Mary, having never known a man and understanding basic biology wonders aloud how God could bring this about. Whereas Zechariah demonstrates unbelief, Mary’s response is more humble, more faithful. Zechariah is seeking a sign—“How shall I know this?” Mary, on the other hand, is curious how God will do what he has promised to do—“How will this be?” The response of the angel seems to confirm that Mary is exercising faith even in asking her question. No temporary judgment falls on Mary as it did Zechariah. Instead, she gets her answer. God himself will act and cause the impossible to be possible.
We are challenged by remembering all that Mary has on the line in submitting herself to the Lord. Her reputation is on the line: Who will believe her report? Her upcoming wedding is on the line: Indeed, Joseph is ready to end the relationship until the Lord intervenes. Her body is on the line: Mary is likely a young teenager at this point and from the information I’ve received from those in the know, pregnancy is hard on the body. With all this at stake, Mary gladly submits herself to the word of the Lord.
Notice her response to the incredible message that she will bear a child by the power of the Holy Spirit: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” The teenaged Mary becomes a model for us of taking God at his word. Without denying Mary’s frailty and sinfulness, Luke holds her up as an example. Mary is God’s humble, listening, and willing servant. Consider how unthinkable it would be for Mary to say, “No, thanks” to the message she receives. It ought to be just as unthinkable for our hearts to cry out, “No, thanks” to his message.
God has every right to tell us what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and with what motive to do it. He has done so in the Bible. That would be scary if God were a cruel, untrustworthy Lord. Yet we see the nature and character of God in Jesus. As “God with us,” Jesus perfectly reveals the character of God to us. And what we see in Christ is compassion that leads Jesus to weep over lost people, humility that compels Christ to suffer the indignity of becoming a helpless infant, and sacrificial love that costs Jesus his very life.
And if that is the Christ of the Bible, we can take him at his word by obeying his commands, resting in his promises, trusting his character, and submitting to his perfect will. We might even say with Mary, “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”