A Christmas Carol Controversy

Pastor Kim Eskridge

It wouldn’t feel like Christmas without the carols. My favorite is “O Holy Night,” which is based on a French poem written in the mid-1800s. I especially like this part:

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees O hear the angels voices.
O night divine O night when Christ was born . . .


The hope that the birth of our Savior brought into the world is amazing beyond any lyrics, but for me, these come close. We rejoice and fall on our knees in worship at the good news of the arrival of Immanuel, God with us!

You likely have your own favorites, too. Isn’t it wonderful to be able to sing so many wonderful old carols in our worship and to listen to them as we drive around on our radios or maybe while we are wrapping gifts at home? I wonder if there might be some songs that we hear so often that we don’t really stop to listen to the message that is being sung.

“Mary, Did You Know,” composed by Mark Lowery in the 1980s is a popular, albeit more modern, Christmas song. The lyrics are asking Mary what she knew about her newborn baby boy, and there is an implication that she didn’t know much. I have recently discovered that this song is definitely not on the list of favorites for many. These friends cry out, “Read Luke 1! Of course, she knew!” I do agree that Mary knew more than the song implies, but surely there were things that went beyond what Gabriel revealed to her before Jesus was born. Let’s look at what Gabriel said to Mary:

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” – Luke 1:28 - 33

Certainly, she knew that this Child growing in her womb was God Himself, that He would be God’s Son, and that He would be a mighty king with an ever-lasting Kingdom. But what did that mean to Mary? Did it convey in any way the astounding miracles that He would perform? Was Mary to know that Jesus would come as the suffering Savior? Not from what Gabriel told her, but if she didn’t know before Jesus was born, she likely got a hint on the day that she and Joseph took Jesus to the Temple to be consecrated according to the law, as recorded in Luke 2.

There, they encountered old Simeon, who had been waiting for the long-promised Messiah. When Simeon saw Jesus, he praised God and thanked the Lord for allowing him to live to see God’s salvation. Then he prophesied these words to Mary:

This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too. – Luke 2:34 – 35

Mary’s soul would be pierced. Just as the hands and feet of her son would one day be pierced. And yet could Mary have really known all that was to come on the day that she stood with Joseph at the Temple holding the newborn Jesus? Did anyone really know, even those closest to Jesus throughout His life and ministry, even when He told them that He had come to die and rise again?

If she had some idea of the Savior that Jesus had come to be, maybe Mary didn’t want to think about it, to deal with it. Couldn’t she and Joseph just celebrate the birth of Jesus and be happy?
I think most of us feel that way, perhaps most deeply at Christmas. We want to absorb all of the happy celebrations, and truly the arrival of Jesus is a time of great joy. But as we rejoice, the shadow of the cross is there. Reminding us of the reason that Jesus came. Praise His Holy Name forever!  

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we
With all our hearts we praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, then ever, ever praise we . . .

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