Yes, Mary Knew!
Guest post by: Pastor Gricel Medina
There is a popular Christmas song that has been sung by various artists called, “Mary, Did You Know?” The song is a series of questions that brings the listener from the birth of Jesus, His ministry, His purpose, His Divinity, and ends with the ultimate question: Mary did you know you were giving birth to the Great I Am?
But, did Mary know all these things? My pet peeve is the assumption that women in the Bible are ignorant, illiterate, and have no common sense—as this song implies. The reality is that Mary was more prophetically literate than we give her credit.
We all see the Bible through an interpretive lens, and many Western Christians tend to read it through a European/American one. We often bypass the culture and customs that were prevalent during biblical times. We even interject our own bias and prejudice. This is a common error that causes misinterpretation to ensue. This lens is most prominent when we solely study male theologians and dismiss or ignore the full body of female voices throughout history.
Mary’s story is simple. She was to be given in marriage as a young woman, but not as young as many think. Research does not yield findings that indicate Joseph was an old man who married a twelve-year-old teenager. As a pastor who has worked with survivors of abuse, this myth is extremely disturbing. Many in the Church world have used this belief to justify child marriage. Others have formed cults with this intent.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have been around 16 to 18 years old when she received the news from the Archangel Gabriel.
The announcement that she had been chosen to carry the Son of God was an overwhelming proclamation. The announcement was also an invitation. Mary had the choice to receive this blessing. There is no indication that God was usurping Mary's free will to accept this divine request. She was chosen by God and Mary consented to the invitation.
Mary’s only question was, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”
The angel was very detailed in his announcement. Yes, Mary knew. Mary knew she was chosen to carry the Son of God in her womb. All she wanted to know was how. I don’t know about you, but I would have had a lot of more questions!
As I have studied Scripture and the work of many scholars, I truly believe that Joseph was not an old man, but possibly in his twenties. Young men also married early during those times. Some as early as seventeen.
An old man would not have had the stamina to make the trip to Bethlehem. Mary was also not a perpetual virgin as some religions surmise and propagate. We know this because the Bible informs us Jesus had siblings.
Mary would have been living with her parents until Joseph would be able to provide for her and their future children. The marriage covenant was not a purchase price for a bride, but a contract of protection for the woman, who in those days had very little legal protections. This contract protected her from an easy divorce and was called the Ketubah.
However, a major problem occurred when Mary became pregnant before she had consummated their marriage. Joseph must have seriously doubted Mary’s story of the Immaculate Conception. He also must have loved her deeply, but his male privilege prevented him to take her as his wife.
Joseph’s cultural obligations were deeply embedded in him. These cultural norms meant divorce and death for offending spouses and betrothed people. In his quest to keep the community from executing these mandates upon Mary, Joseph decided to quietly put her away. Joseph probably felt it would save her life. As humans, we think we have it all figured out, but God’s ways are different than ours. Joseph took the safe route by deciding to put her away quietly. This tells us that Mary must have known that the possibility existed of being ostracized by Joseph. Her ‘yes’ carried consequences.
Thankfully, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to confirm that Mary was chosen by God. Mary’s incredibly personal risk to accept the word of God was defended.
What other risks would Mary personally have to take? Mary must have known the magnitude of her decision. She was familiar with the customs and culture of her day, which promised ostracization from the community. Jewish marriages carried a lot of formalism, with many steps to follow. You just didn’t take these customs lightly.
The betrothal stage was when the groom went to the bride’s home and paid a set amount to the father of the bride. This would establish a covenant between the two families and would often be established while the bride and groom were younger or could have been done several years before.
After the covenant was made, the groom would return to his family’s home to prepare for his bride. This would include building a bridal chamber adjacent to the house where the marriage would be consummated. This could take a year or more to prepare. The bride never knew what time her groom would come for her. Instead, the time would be determined by the father of the groom. Even the son would not know the time. Does this custom sound familiar?
"However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” —Mark 13:32 (NLT)
During this time of anticipation, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary. Imagine some huge glorious and powerful archangel announcing that you would be pregnant with the Son of God. Mary knew the repercussions of saying ‘yes.’ Saying ‘yes’ could mean not only losing Joseph, but the respect of her parents, and suffering the community’s scorn for carrying a child out of wedlock. She could even face death. Mary knew. Mary knew exactly what this could mean to her, but she trusted God would take care of her. Prophecy had been foretold, like that found in Isaiah 7:14:
“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and His name shall be called Emmanuel.”
Mary understood that prophecy. She spent three months with her relative Elizabeth, who was also carrying a miracle child. Mary was likely present at the birth the child of who would be later known as John the Baptist. John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary greeted her. Elizabeth then told Mary,
“What an honor this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me!”
Yes, Mary knew. She was told all throughout her pregnancy. She believed the word of God.
We see this in Mary’s response to Elizabeth with The Magnificat: Mary’s song of praise in Luke 1: 46-55—deeply similar to the words of Hannah in (cf. 1 Samuel 2:1–10).
Both women deliver a powerful declaration that is filled with poetic imagery, similar to Psalm 113. This gives us tangible evidence of Mary’s understanding and deep knowledge of the sacred scriptures which she must have known from an early age. The oral traditions had been passed on to her and her relative Elizabeth.
When God calls us as women, the reality is that answering the call involves personal sacrifice, misunderstanding, and even the ridicule of those who refuse to acknowledge our calling. We live in a culture much like Mary’s—a world that does not recognize our power, purpose, or potential, But God sees. Let us honor Mary’s courageous choice, voice, and poise in suffering during this season. May she inspire all of us, especially those who are marginalized, to answer the call of God in our lives with the certainty that God listens and cares.
Gricel Medina is a pastor, speaker, church planter, and advocate who is ordained through the
Evangelical Covenant Church, Gricel was the first Hispanic to be Chairperson of the ECC
commission on Biblical Gender Equality (CBGE). Pastor Medina writes for several Spanish and
English magazines, devotionals, and blogs, including Covenant Companion, the award-winning magazine, Mutuality, and the CBE blog Arise. Pastor Medina was awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award due to her advocacy for women at all levels of leadership, both inside and outside the Church. | Contact her on Twitter: @pastorgricel