SCRIPTURE LESSON: Luke 1: 47-55

“Alexa, play Christmas music.”

This was my voice command the other morning while making holiday goodies for my neighbors. Alexa came through in spades. First she played Eartha Kitt’s “Santa Baby.” Then Bing Crosby singing his iconic “White Christmas.” After that came a cascade of old familiars. And then finally the cappella harmonies of The Pentatonix singing “Mary, Did You Know?”

“Mary, did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water? Mary, did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

The song’s melody is absolutely lovely, but honestly, the lyrics rub me the wrong way. Because, as our reading today makes so very clear, Mary did know. She knew before anyone else knew. She knew way more than the angel Gabriel told her, that’s for sure.

You might remember that when he came with his surprising news, Gabriel told Mary she would bear a son and name him Jesus. That he would be great and called the Son of the Most High and that he would reign over the house of Jacob forever. That’s what Gabe knew. But Mary? She knew so much more.

How do we know? Luke tells us that as soon as her conversation with the angel ended and Gabriel headed back to heaven, Mary broke into a bright, bold song, a joyful song, a prophetic song. A song about the revolution of love this child would bring about.

Because of her baby boy, the world’s unjust systems would be reordered. What was wrong would be made right. Pervasive injustice would be toppled and the privileged and the powerful would no longer be able to exploit the poor and the powerless.

And to top it all off, Mary’s wording insists that the turnaround God was enacting was far more than a “somewhere over the rainbow” possibility but that with her pregnancy God’s turnaround, God’s reordering of life as we know it had already begun, had already been accomplished even.

If you ask me, that’s some badassery right there. Especially coming from someone who had only recently outgrown being a kid.

The Pentatonix’ song is catchy but biblically and theologically, it’s way off. Mary knew. And she knew what many of us in the western world still have not grasped: that our Savior’s aim would be much more than our redemption as individuals. What stands in need of transformation is so much bigger than our lives alone. What needs transforming goes so much further than our private worlds; it’s the whole enchilada that God in Christ intends to change.

Young though she was, Mary knew this—and she simply could not contain her joy for being chosen by God to have a role in God’s coming revolution of love. Nor could she hold back her gratitude that God the liberator was now actively overturning the systems that oppress.

Of course Mary had to throw out her arms. Of course Mary had to toss back her head and open her throat. Of course Mary had to sing at the top of her lungs in the same way as Hannah and Mariam, Moses’ sister had done before her. Indeed, if you listen carefully, you will hear echoes of their God-songs in Mary’s song today.

Mary, did you know, the popular Christmas song asks. Damn straight she knew. Mary didn’t need to be mansplained or even angelsplained. Mary might have been young, she might have led a sheltered life in a backwater village. But she was no dolt. No body-burro asked to carry a child whose import she would need someone else to point out to her later. Mary knew.

All these years later and still we underestimate Mary. We underestimate her God-blessed sisters, too. Don’t believe me? Consider the blowback Greta Thunberg received this week—from the President no less—when Time Magazine named her their Person of the Year.

Unable to imagine that a young woman, on her own, can do the math and the science and all the rest that goes with calling for a revolution to address our planet’s critical climate issues, some genuinely believe that Greta is merely a puppet, that she is being used by conniving men who are advancing climate change myths through her.

Mary knew. Greta knows. Joan of Arc in her time did, too.

Gun control activist Emma Gonzales knows as well. You may remember that soon after her Florida high school endured the unthinkable and yet all too common, Emma she had the audacity to sing “We Call BS,” loud and long at a rally calling for an end to gun violence.

Not long after that Emma sang again—this time silently for six full minutes while she looked straight ahead and the whole world looked on—her stoic wordlessness lasting the same amount of time it took the shooter to terrorize her school and take 17 lives, wound 17 more, and inflict lifelong trauma upon the rest of Emma’s classmates.

I don’t know about you but when I think of a prophet, I imagine a grizzled old man. Or maybe, if I’m reading about John the Baptizer, a curious character on the literal and figurative edge of society.

We have a hard time imagining that someone who is young, inexperienced, someone who has no name or fame might have a handle on God’s truth, God’s dream for God’s people in this time and place. Not just “might have,” but does.

Fr. Richard Rohr and Fr. John Dear both have taught at length about the ways in which Mary’s prophetic understandings shaped her son, how her keen perceptions about what God was up to in and through Jesus profoundly affected Jesus’ sense of himself and his ministry.

How unfortunate that we have for so long underestimated Mary’s spiritual acuity and her substantial personhood.

How sad that we Protestants largely ignore Mary while our Roman Catholic friends elevate her perpetual virginity, all of which makes Mary far less than the person she truly was.

It seems to me that instead of skipping over Mary’s substance or minimizing her prophetic sensitivities, we might all be wise to sit at her feet, learning from her how to trust the deepest knowings of our pure-hearted, God-connected selves and to take great risks for the world’s sake.

Mary might have been young, a nobody, a peasant girl in the hinterlands. But Mary was a powerhouse. Just like Greta and Joan and Emma, and countless other young women have been or are. Voices through whom God speaks. Bodies through whom God acts. Minds as keen and trustworthy as any. Souls bright and bold and willing.

These young women are all worthy of our attention, our respect, and even our emulation–because we are each more like them than not. We may not be young women but we each have it in us to sing songs of God’s liberation, and to carry that song forward not only in words but with our very bodies, even when this comes at cost.

Amen.

* * * * *

If I might, I’d like to add what I consider to be an important post script. Since the first time I heard “Mary, Did You Know,” I’ve longed for different, more faithful lyrics. And this week I found them. Jennifer Henry, whom I do not know, offers these words as an alternative. If I were a singer, I would sing them for you. But since I am not, I will read them.

Mary, Did You Know?

Mary did you know,
that your ancient words
would still leap off our pages?
Mary did you know,
that your spirit song
would echo through the ages?

Did you know that your holy cry
would be subversive word,
that the tyrants would be trembling
when they know your truth is heard?
Mary did you know,
that your lullaby
would stir your own Child’s passion?
Mary did you know,
that your song inspires
the work of liberation?

Did you know that your Jubilee
is hope within the heart
of all who dream of justice,
who yearn for it to start?

The truth will teach, the drum will sound, healing for the pain
The poor will rise, the rich will fall. Hope will live again.

Mary did you know,
that we hear your voice
for the healing of the nations?
Mary did you know,
your unsettling cry
can help renew creation?
Do you know, that we need your faith,
the confidence of you,
May the God that you believe in,
be for us as real and true.

Lyrics by Jennifer Henry (inspired by the popular song of the same name, with some minor editing from me.)

* * * * *

Let us pray: Gracious God, throughout the ages you have used the unlikely and even the unlovely to impart your vision and call us into new life. Give us ears to hear those whom you have sent. Give us voices to speak your words of truth even when the world would tell us we are insignificant. And always, grant us the willingness to bear and deliver to the world the love and justice Jesus took birth to proclaim and establish. Amen.