(As an editorial note, you may notice that this coming Sunday is the 4th of Advent but this is only the 3rd of my entries, so look for my 4th on Christmas Eve rather than a post on Boxing Day.)
This is such a Protestant song, in so many ways, and it’s also not a hymn like most of the other songs I’ve focused on are. Usually this is sung by a soloist or a choir as an anthem during a service, but I do so like it despite my distaste for most pop Christian tunes. I think I’ve confessed before, Reader, my Catholic roots, and considering I was holed up in a space in my church yesterday with my rosary having words with both Jesus and His mother last night, I thought this particular tune was appropriate for today.
(By the by, Reader, I do so heartily ask for your prayers—covet them, really—over the next couple of months. More health issues with my ear, so prayers of healing and patience are absolutely welcome.)
The lyrics to this are just fantastic, really. The thing we focus on so much at Christmas is the mind-blowing concept of the Divine made flesh, God incarnate, but I think it’s equally important to recognize the flesh made divine going on around the birth. No, I’m not saying that any of the rest of the Christmas cast of characters was God, but I am most definitely saying that that meeting place of God and (hu)man transformed more than just the mass of cells in Mary’s abdomen. Mary herself was made more, in some ways, for having spent the nine months carrying what would be God not only because that miraculous parasite would be God but because it would be anything at all. I may not like kids or ever want one myself, but I do definitely marvel at the fact that the female body can take genetic coding and make it a living, breathing human being.
That’s some divine science, right there.
So the human is caught up in this divine creation, but it is still human. Just as we marvel at the thought of the wave-calming Christ being a crying baby, so we continually go back to this woman carrying that child and her soon-to-be spouse who have both been visited by angels (definitely an out-0f-the-ordinary experience) and are now going to have to raise God.
Kind of intense.
All parenting is, though, and this song is great because it sits so powerfully in that pocket of how bizarre it must have been to be Jesus’ parents. Each child is a challenge and a joy and a mess and a marvel, and every parent wonders what the child will be, what will happen to him or her, whether s/he will make it to being happy, healthy, grown. To add to that the idea that this kid, this one Jewish boy, will somehow lead His people to a new understanding of their God? No pressure, Mary and Joseph, no pressure.
So when this song asks all of these questions of Mary, I think there’s an underlying and unspoken question to all of them: would you have gone through with it if you had?
Therein is the faith of Mary. I don’t think she did know most of this when she said yes, Scary Shining Angel, I will do this. And I don’t think she knew it when she said that her soul magnified the Lord and that future generations would call her blessed. Yet she accepted the quickening of this life within her and all of the shame and pain and confusion that would go with it. She accepted parenthood. She accepted pregnancy. She accepted possibility.
And she didn’t know.
I’m a knowing kind of person, in case you hadn’t guessed. I like to know what’s coming, to weigh my options, to brace myself for all that’s going to go wrong—and right. I don’t like not knowing, whether it’s in an academic sense or a timing sense. Knowledge is power, and that kind of power is absolutely my weakness. So when I, with my 20/20 historical hindsight, sing to Mary whether or not she understood that “you will be mother to the Son of the Most High, in the line of David the hope of the children of Abraham” meant “your offspring is quite literally going to take on the peoples of the world so as to present them to the One God YHWH,” I can’t help feeling a bit of confusion in my heart. What if she had known, as I would have demanded to? And how could she handle the duality of being both deliverer and delivered, mother and daughter? I can’t even manage Interpreter being my best friend and my pastor sometimes, I can’t imagine what Mary’s relationship to Jesus must have been like.
The song, whether totally instrumental or wonderfully jazzed up, pulls us in and makes us ask some very human questions of a very human woman about the ramifications of birthing a very-but-not-totally-but-completely human baby.
Just the kind of song Advent can use to prepare us for this bizarre night, I’d think.
And all those that heard it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:18-19, JUB)