“Mary, What DID You Know?” (Luke 1:26-38)
Every year several of the radio stations in St. Louis start playing nothing but Christmas music. I think they start sometime around mid-August, but that’s beside the point. They play Christmas music, and a few of the songs even have something to do with the birth of Christ. Yes, it’s true! And one of the most popular of these songs is a song called, “Mary, Did You Know?” You’ve probably heard it, I’m guessing. The idea of the song is that someone is asking Mary, the mother of our Lord, if she knew what would become of her son. Did she know at the time of his birth what her son would do later on? And so a couple of the lines from the song go like this: “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?” “Mary, did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?” And so on. You get the idea. It’s not a bad song. It uses the poetic device of addressing Mary and asking her about her baby, to highlight what the Christ child would go on to do–why he came, really.
But the song, as it stands, raises this question of what Mary actually did know at the time when Jesus was born. In other words: What did Mary know, and when did she know it? And that’s where our text for today comes in, the Holy Gospel from Luke chapter 1. This text tells us what Mary knew, even from the time it was announced to her that she would give birth to the Christ child. And with that, we will be able to answer the song’s question–and find some answers for ourselves, as well–as we find out: “Mary, What DID You Know?”
This portion of Luke 1 is the account of the Annunciation, that occasion nine months before Christ’s birth when the angel Gabriel came and announced to Mary what was going to take place. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.” “In the sixth month”: That refers to the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, she who was pregnant with John the Baptist. And note that Mary is betrothed to a man named Joseph, but the marriage has not yet been consummated. She is a virgin. Also note the reference to “the house of David,” David having been Israel’s great king from a thousand years earlier, the one to whom the promise of the Messiah had been made, that the great end-time deliverer-king would come from the house of David.
The angel Gabriel from heaven came, and he addresses this humble virgin: “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Well, that’s a nice greeting. It’s good to know that the Lord is with you when an angel appears. Otherwise, it would be pretty scary. Indeed, whenever angels appear to humans in the Bible, it is a scary thing, and the humans need to be calmed down. Mary is no different. She is “greatly troubled,” our text says, and she doesn’t know what to make of this. So the angel reassures her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Well, again, this is good to know. And so here we have the first thing that Mary knows: She knows that the Lord is with her and that she has found favor with God.
Now Gabriel gets to the big news: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.” Well, that by itself maybe isn’t such big news. Mary was soon to be married, after all, and the odds that one day she would have a son were no worse than 50/50. And even the name Jesus–that was a very common name for Jewish boys, being a form of the name Joshua, a great hero from Israel’s past.
But wait, there’s more. Gabriel continues: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Now that really is big news! This son that Mary will bear, this Jesus–he will be the Son of the Most High God! Whoa! How can that be? And what’s more, he will be a king. Not just any king. The King, the great messianic king, coming out of the line of David. The promised end-time deliverer sent by God, who will usher in an everlasting kingdom. You can’t get any more “big news” than that!
“But wait a minute,” Mary is thinking. “How am I supposed to give birth to a son, when I’m not even married yet? Mr. Angel, you’re sounding like this conceiving-in-my-womb business is going to happen right away!” Or, to put it more simply, as our text has it: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
If what Mary had been told a moment ago was not amazing and astounding enough, now Gabriel increases the wonderment. He says: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God.” Yes, this will be the most unique birth in the whole history of the universe, for the most unique child ever to be born. “Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary.” Just like we say in the Creed. True God and true man, in this one person Jesus Christ. The holy Son of God, to be born in human flesh. This too is what Mary knows.
Gabriel goes on: “And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” If God can cause a barren old woman like Elizabeth to become pregnant, he can also do this for a young virgin like Mary. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”
So, Mary, what did you know? You know what the angel told you: That the Lord is with you with his favor. That you will conceive–as a virgin, by the Holy Spirit–and that you will bear a son, to be named Jesus. You know, Mary, that this son will be no ordinary child. He will be the very Son of God, born in human flesh–your own flesh and blood. And you know that this boy will be a king, the great messianic king coming out of the line of David. Mary, did you know all this? Yes, you did. Because the angel told you. Well, at least Mary knows that this is what the angel says. The question is, does she believe it?
Mary answers that question in the positive: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” That is faith speaking, faith generated by that same Holy Spirit, working through the Word of God. Mary believes. And perhaps that is the greatest miracle of all in this story. But with God, nothing will be impossible, even faith to believe the impossible.
And that brings us to you, dear Christian. What do you know? What do you believe? Christian, did you know? Did you know that this baby Jesus would be born for you? Yes, you! He came to be your Savior, just as he is the Savior for Mary and for all us sinners who need a Savior. This messianic king would bring in his kingdom of grace and blessing precisely by being born in the flesh, as our brother. To quote another song: What if God was one of us? Well, that’s what has happened, in the person of this baby born of Mary, Jesus Christ. Our brother Jesus kept the law we haven’t kept. He fulfilled God’s law for us. And then he bore our sins in his body on the cross, paying the price that needed to be paid, in our place, as our substitute. This is how his kingdom happens. Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, with a sign hanging over his head, as he suffers and dies for all of us. And because he is the holy Son of God, death cannot hold him. Jesus rises from the dead, the guarantee that all who trust in him will likewise live forever in his kingdom.
Now did Mary know all of this, in this detail, at this point? No, but she would. As you’ll hear next Sunday, Mary would know, for example, that a sword will pierce her heart, as one day she will watch her son be rejected and crucified. But at this point she does knows that the son she will bear will be the Son of God and the Messiah. How that will play out, she would come to find out later. But what she knows is enough for now. And God gives her the grace to believe it.
And that is what God does for you also, my friends. He tells you what you need to know, what you need to know about this Jesus, this Savior of yours. And he gives you the grace to believe. Miracles all around, you might say.
What did Mary know, and when did she know it? Yes, Mary, what DID you know?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you.
Oh yes, Mary did know this! And you know it too! Thanks be to God!