What Mary Knew: Christmas Eve

December 24, 2023

B, Christmas Eve

            I am going to share a little clergy
secret…which you would only know if you followed dozens and dozens of pastors
on social media.  Most pastors in the
Episcopal Church or other churches with similar theologies don’t like the song
“Mary, did you know?” Some of them really hate it and write scathing comments
or even create memes about why, yes of course Mary knew every single thing that
was going to happen.  She was the mother
of God. 

if you don’t know the song—don’t worry I am not going to sing it.  It’s basically a series of questions for Mary
as she holds her infant son. It’s everything from: “Did you know he would be
God?” to a list of all the miracles he did. “Did you know he would walk on
water, cure the blind, etc.?”  The reason
so many people don’t like it is because they think it belittles Mary.  Here is my 2nd little secret…I
kind of like the song and since I became a mother of a boy, I tear up every
time I hear it because it reminds me of all the things that will happen to my
son, that will hurt, that I won’t be able to control.  And if I think too much about that, I kind of
lose my mind.  It helps me understand
Mary a little more.

            Obviously, Mary knew some important
things.  The Angel Gabriel told her that
she would conceive a son and name him Jesus. 
He would be the son of the Most High and would receive the throne of
King David.  His kingdom would never
end.  Those are where the details ended
as far as the Angel Gabriel.  But later, Mary
made a pronouncement called the Magnificat which showed that she had a good
idea of who this son would be.  He would
be a revolutionary and a prophet.  He
would transform the world in that he would bring down the powerful and lift up
the lowly. 

The next hint we have is in the Gospel reading we heard tonight. The
angels told the shepherds that on that night, a baby was born, who was the
Messiah, the Lord.  The shepherds then
passed on this message to Mary and Joseph. 
The next piece of information Mary got was from two prophets she encountered
in the temple when she brought Jesus for his naming ceremony when he was 8 days
old. The prophets told Mary and Joseph that their son would be a light for revelation to
the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.

            So far, it was all good and
uplifting news.  No doubt it would have
been overwhelming, but still positive. But then the prophet Simeon added a
little twist: “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.”  I am sure Mary was already afraid…just
because weight of the knowledge that she was raising the Messiah.  That had to be intimidating. But now she knew
her son’s life would not be easy—that he would anger people and that something
would happen that would be so devastating, it would pierce her soul.  That’s what Mary knew.  That’s a whole lot.  Yet still, it seems to me that the angels,
the shepherds, and the prophets were stingy with the details. 

            Thank God they were.  How could she have coped if when she held her
infant child, she knew everything that would happen to him? We know that Mary
was a strong person with extraordinary faith, but how much can a new parent
possibly bare?  I mean, if that was me
and I knew all that would happen, I might ask, “Do we really need a
savior?  If so, can someone else be that

            We don’t know exactly how old Mary
was.  At the time, girls would be engaged
at 12 or 13 and married at 15 or 16.  Let’s
go with 15.  Let’s even take out the
child element and imagine yourself at 15. 
Would you want your 15 year old self to know everything that would
happen to you? I wouldn’t.  Some of it
would have made me happy.  It would have
been good to know I would be married in my late 20s.  It would have made dating a lot less
stressful.  But I would not have wanted
to know that I would be infertile. It would have been too much to process at
that time. I would not have wanted to know that I would almost die at the age
of 44 from a mysterious illness.  There
are things in our life we can’t imagine surviving until we have no choice but
to survive.

assume for a moment that Mary was the strongest, most faithful teenager in the
world—do you think she could have held a child who she knew would be crucified
and not fall into 1,000 pieces?  No, I don’t think Mary knew everything. She
knew enough.  She had faith, faith that
would carry her through seeing a child insulted, abandoned, betrayed, arrested
and killed.   She was one of the only people who stayed at
the cross while he died.

            Now you might be thinking…this is
Christmas…not Good Friday.  Why are you
talking about the sad stuff?  If you look
at the end of our Gospel readings it describes the joyful and excited shepherds
and the amazement of those around Mary.  Then
it says, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her
heart.”  She treasured those words, but
she also pondered them. In my mind she was preparing, preparing for all that
was to come.

            The reality is that we all face
heart breaking things in our life…some more than others. What gets us through
those times, are those words that Mary treasured.  They were words about a Messiah and a
Savior—a God so committed to his people that he would risk being born to a
human, to be completely dependent on a girl to care for him. Mary was a
faithful Jew.  She knew the God of the
Hebrew scriptures.  But now, this God was
here, with her, dependent on her. She knew this God in a way she could not have
possibly known before.

that was the gift that God gave to all humanity on Christmas…God with us. God
with us in the grime, grit, pain, joy and laughter of our life here on
earth.  This God sacrificed everything
for the people of this world.  This God would
not make our lives easy, but this God would make our lives holy, equipped with
the knowledge that we are beloved and worthy of God’s love…that no matter how
hard life might get, how weary we might be, how lonely we might feel, we are
never alone.  God was born to a girl in a
small town so we would know God and always have him with us.

            I am not too concerned about what
Mary knew.  What I care is what you—the
people of God– know.  If you don’t
already, I want you to know that God is with you.  You are not alone.