Mary did you know. Who would have guessed that a song written by a comedian sixteen years ago would today become one of the most recognizable of Christmas tunes? I think it is safe to say that this Christmas season, it will cumulatively be the most viewed Christmas song on youtube (thanks, Penatonix). I would also bet that there will be more covers of this than any other song created in the last fifty years as one artist after another puts out their holiday album. It is such a great, heart-gripping, singable song. Who can resist? If I had a voice worth listening to and were putting out a Christmas album it would certainly be on my list.
So who is this Mary that Mark Lowry and, thanks to him, five million other people are singing to? Who is this woman that we are asking questions of? I have had some Muslim friends get confused when they find out that I do not believe Mary is part of the Trinity. Apparently, they were taught that Christians believe the Trinity is God the Father, Son, and Mother. Funny thing is, the Quran actually mentions her more times than the New Testament does. According to Islam she was born sinless, miraculously to a couple in old age, and dedicated from birth to the Temple. There she was given a special room in which to pray, was miraculously fed, and placed under the guardianship of her uncle Zechariah. At the Annunciation of the birth of Jesus, she was declared the greatest woman in the history of the world and made sinless (from what I’ve read, most Muslim scholars view this as a statement on her perpetual virginity). She gave birth while eating dates under a palm tree and when she returned with the baby to the Temple, the newborn Jesus defended her against her skeptics.
That is how Muslims view Mary, what about Catholics? Although they do not worship Mary as divine, with some of the statements they do make, it is no wonder why our Muslim brothers would believe they do. The thing is, most of the Catholic doctrine of Mary does not come from the Bible but from a text called the Protoevangelion of James. The first record of it was by Origin who called it a recent writing and clearly false. Innocent the First, today considered one of the early popes, also writing not long later condemned it as false. It was not once included as part of the canon by any of the early church council and at least once explicitly rejected. Even Thomas Aquinas, the greatest religious scholar in RCC history rejected it. Even still, it is only in this writing that you will find things like Mary’s perpetual virginity, the announcement of her birth, and her dedication to God from that time.
A common prayer to Mary begins, “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thee among women…” This actually brings to mind a time when Jesus was teaching. A woman in the crowd raised her voice and shouted out, “Blessed is your mother—the womb from which you came, and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus did not deny that his mother was blessed. However, he wanted to make sure people kept things in perspective so he replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” According to Jesus, you and I can be even more blessed than Mary, just so long as we obey Him.
This last statement might sound like heresy to some reading me. It actually does line up with what Mary herself has said. In all of scripture, there is only one command that Mary gives. Do you know what it is? She said, “Do whatever He [Jesus] tells you to do.” Her only command in all of scripture is that we obey the commands of Jesus. Jesus commands are more along the lines of: come to me, follow me, do what I tell you, listen to my words and put them into practice. It is clear that Jesus loved and respected his mother. He chose to return home with her and dad rather than stay in the Temple which he had the right, at this age, to do. He also made it a point to see that she would be cared for even as he was dying on the cross. He loved his mother, but he never pointed to her as one worthy of adoration, or even emulation.
So who is Mary? She was a girl, probably in her early teens or maybe even younger when she was first visited by Gabriel. She was still unmarried which meant she was not far past her first bleeding. She had relations who served in the Temple, but she was just a small town girl who became a young mother of at least three kids. (Two of the books in the Bible are written by Jesus’ brothers) In short, she was just a normal girl who loved God and wasn’t all that different than you or I. Yes, she was used by God for one of the greatest miracles in the history of humanity but that was because of God’s grace, not her own goodness. She was simply a child who said, “Let it be to me, just as you have said.” Did she have any idea what she had just agreed to with those ten simple words?