Twenty-six years ago, the late Rev. Jerry Falwell invited Mark Lowry to write a Christmas program. As he wrote the “speaking parts”, he began to think about Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In a recent interview, Lowry recalled, “as my mind went back to the manger scene, I began to think about the power, authority and majesty Mary cradled in her arms. I began writing a list of questions I would like to ask Mary if I could sit down with her - questions such as, ‘Mary, do you know who is in your arms? Did you know that your baby boy will walk on water, give sight to a blind man and calm a storm at sea with his hand?’”
Lowry carried his lyrics with him for the next seven years. In 1991, he asked his good friend, Buddy Greene, to write suitable music for his poem. According to Green, “Mark handed me his lyrics, and I held on to them for about two weeks.
One day I pulled them out and looked at them. They seemed to suggest a minor key approach to writing an accompaniment. I completed the musical setting in about 30 minutes. I called Mark at his home in Georgia and on the phone played and sang the song to him. He was ecstatic! He said, ‘That’s it!’
Two weeks later. Greene met in Mark’s hotel room in Nashville where they recorded the song on a small portable machine. It was then taken to Michael English who was preparing to make an album. He was the first person to record “Mary, Did You Know?”
Since Michael English, many other artistes have rendered “Mary, Did You Know”. I like Mark Lowry’s rendition very much. Then I heard the Pentatonix a cappella rendition.
In 2014, this Grammy Award-winning a cappella group with their resplendent displays of vocal harmony, took Lowry’s classic to another level. The musical group used the diversity of their collective vocal ranges to emphasize that a small gathering is in awe of Mary and her role. Each of the five vocalists asked her their questions. The unusual approach magnified the sense of wonder in the song, particularly as contrasted to a single querying narrator.
Here we are, twenty-six years later and still in love with “Mary, Did You Know”. Some are captivated by the music and return to it again and again. Interestingly, many who do not share Mark Lowry’s faith, which fueled his authorship, sing the song with passion.
Some who share Lowry’s faith have problems with the song. They believe the song contends that Mary needed a Savior. “But how could Mary need a Savior,” they ask, “if she were born of immaculate conception?” Immaculate Conception is a Roman Catholic teaching which asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved free from the effects of original sin from her conception.
Mary had been solemnly declared to be the mother of God at the Church’s Council of Ephesus in 431. Most Catholic theologians doubted that one who had been so close to God could have actually experienced sinful acts. I have not read the findings of the Council of Ephesus, but I have read the Magnificat, the lyrics of Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.
The Latin translation of Mary’s response begins with the word Magnificat, which simply means “magnify” (or “exalt,” “glorify,” etc.). The Magnificat is a poem of praise to God, praising Him for His blessing to Mary and His faithfulness to Israel. The Magnificat also highlights a series of reversals in which the proud are humbled and the humble are exalted—not the least being a poor young girl who will be the mother of the Messiah.
Commentators have pointed out that the Magnificat is full of quotations of and allusions to passages in the Old Testament. Many of the truths Mary expresses find a counterpart in Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1–10.
Dr John Piper shared an interesting commentary on Mary’s reference to God’s holiness. Piper contends that Mary stressed that God's holiness has expressed itself and will express itself by exalting the lowly and abasing the haughty.
“What fills Mary's heart with joy is that God loves to undertake for the underdog who calls on his mercy. This is how his holiness expresses itself. Does this not commend itself as true, that the great and holy God should magnify his greatness by blessing the lowly who admire his greatness and by abasing the haughty who resent his greatness?”
Honestly, Mary would not have been able to answer the questions in Mark Lowry’s song – she just did not know the answers. However, what she knew, was what God could do through the surrender of a simple teenage girl. This Christmas, remember, God still works through simple people who surrender their lives to Him.