In what is probably one of the most popular versions of the traditional Christmas song to come out, a Capella group Pentatonix gained more than 21 million views on their rendition of “Mary Did You Know?” in just one month of being on Youtube. With a fresh, catchy sound, the old song is striking a very new chord in the ears of listeners as the Christmas season approaches.
What Did Mary Know?
Although the questions posed in the song might not all be theologically correct from a Catholic standpoint, they allow us to think about the mystery of who Christ is, and share in the wonder that Mary perhaps felt as the birth of her son drew near.
As Catholic writer Mark Shea put it in one of his entries on his “Catholic and Enjoying It” blog for Patheos, although Mary couldn’t foresee everything that her son would say or do during his ministry, she knew who he was thanks to scripture and the prophets, and had a keen awareness of his divinity and the role he would play in the salvation of the world, herself included.
In thinking about the responses to the questions posed in the song, some of which Mary could answer with a ‘yes’ and others with a ‘no,’ we are drawn more deeply into the nature of Christ and the mystery of his Incarnation. We are able to share in the wonder and awe of looking into the face of a small, vulnerable child and trying to comprehend that this baby is the great and powerful Lord of all creation.
Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:51) after the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to her of Christ’s birth and after the elderly Simeon’s recognition of Jesus’s divinity at his presentation in the temple, looked at her child with all of this in mind, and awaited his coming with a silent, joyful expectation, particularly because he bore the face of God.
How do we approach the Christ-child?
As we hear and listen to this song, we are invited to ponder the mystery of Christ’s Incarnation alongside Mary, and to deepen in our own understanding of what it means for Jesus to be fully God, and become fully man too. We are also invited to think about our own attitude at his coming: how do we find ourselves before the baby Jesus? Are we like Mary, awaiting his coming with joy and hope? Are we doubtful? Are we afraid?
Despite whatever baggage we come with, Christmas is an invitation to encounter the love of the Christ-child, who came to dwell among his people as a sign of closeness and salvation. By coming as a defenseless infant born in a manger, Jesus reveals himself not as an all-powerful deity who makes extraneous demands on his people, but rather as one who seeks to be in the midst of his people, to come to their level and meet them face to face. He chooses, as Pope Francis has often encouraged pastors to do, to take on “the odor” of his sheep.
This child, who will come to meet each of us face to face in just a few days, offers each person forgiveness, hope and reconciliation, and asks us nothing more than to come and adore him, contemplating his mystery in wonder and in awe.
As Pope Francis said during his Christmas Eve mass last year, in Jesus “was revealed the grace, the mercy, and the tender love of the Father: Jesus is Love incarnate. He is not simply a teacher of wisdom, he is not an ideal for which we strive while knowing that we are hopelessly distant from it. He is the meaning of life and history, who has pitched his tent in our midst…Jesus is the light who brightens the darkness. He is our peace.”
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