This year, I send Monday blessings inspired by a hymn, song, or carol of Christmas. Let’s start with the lovely Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song), co-written and sung by Amy Grant. (And, if you haven’t heard it, go and listen right now.)
Oh, good golly, Miss Molly – so, so beautiful.
Now, the Bible tells us little of Mary’s day-to-day, both before and after the birth of Jesus.
We know she is young and engaged to a descendant of King David.
In fact, most of what we know of Mary and the announcement of the coming birth of Jesus is told in just thirteen verses – less than 350 words.
And much of what we know of her nature is told through the words of Gabriel:
Rejoice, beloved young woman,
for the Lord is with you
and you are anointed with great favor...
the Lord has found delight in you
and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift.
… and her own faithful willingness to accept the will of God:
Yes! I will be a mother for the Lord!
As his servant, I accept whatever he has for me.
May everything you have told me come to pass.
Although there are glimpses of her later in the Gospels, we have only those minimal colors to paint a picture of her… Mary, mother of Jesus.
But Breath of Heaven imagines Mary as a real person, promised to another at a young age, pregnant before marriage, and overwhelmed by a heavenly appearance few of us will ever witness. She knows she is special but has little idea what is to come.
I have traveled many moonless nights
Cold and weary with a babe inside
And I wonder what I’ve done
Holy father you have come
And chosen me now to carry your son
I am waiting in a silent prayer
I am frightened by the load I bear
In a world as cold as stone
Must I walk this path alone?
Be with me now
Be with me now
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place
But I offer all I am
For the mercy of your plan
Help me be strong
Help me be
Breath of heavenBreath of Heaven, Amy Grant and Chris Eaton
Hold me together
Be forever near me
Breath of heaven
Breath of heaven
Lighten my darkness
Pour over me your holiness
For you are holy
Breath of heaven
The lyrics capture what I believe would be a realistic portrait of a young woman who, unlike us, does not have the benefit of the written Gospel. She must know how great and powerful is the God of her fathers, but how could she have foreseen the remarkable life of Jesus.
You might have heard about a bit of a dust up in the world of social media about a song with a similar kind of flavor – Mary, Did You Know? For some reason, there are those who nitpick and find fault with the question, occasionally referencing the Magnificat, in which Mary describes in song the truth of God’s nature and strength:
My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God!Luke 1:46-55 (The Passion Translation)
My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God!
For he set his tender gaze upon me, his lowly servant girl.
And from here on, everyone will know
that I have been favored and blessed.
The Mighty One has worked a mighty miracle for me;
holy is his name!
Mercy kisses all who fear him,
from one generation to the next.
Mighty power flows from him
to scatter all those who walk in pride.
Powerful princes he tears from their thrones
and he lifts up the lowly to take their place.
Those who hunger for him will always be filled,
but the smug and self-satisfied he will send away empty.
Because he can never forget to show mercy,
he has helped his chosen servant, Israel,
keeping his promises to Abraham
and to his descendants forever.
She certainly knows God. And that’s precisely why He chose her, for heaven’s sake.
For the naysayers, yes, it’s true – she did understand that Jesus walked with angels and was the Son of God. She probably knew that Jesus, as God’s Son, would have been involved in the creation of the world and that He would be known as “the great I AM,” all pointed out in Mary, Did You Know? as if she didn’t know. I get it.
But how could she know that Jesus would walk on water or give sight to the blind or calm a storm? Did she imagine Him bringing the widow’s son or Lazarus back to life? Could she picture the crippled woman walking or the reattachment of an ear?
Mary was a young woman, probably in her early teens, prayerful, faithful, and willing to offer herself “for the mercy of your plan.” But Breath of Heaven provides a vision of a Mary that was entirely human. Cold, weary, frightened, lonely. Burdened by what she wholeheartedly agreed to do. Doubting not God, but herself.
And, at the same time, in the deepest parts of her heart and soul, she was looking to the very source of her unusual and difficult circumstances to build her up, carry her burden, lighten her darkness.
She knew God very well.
We all too often look at the stories of the Bible and see the people as characters because we know what happens.
This isn’t a bad thing. In our efforts to better understand God, we do read and reread the Scriptures, looking for the nuance of a different perspective to enrich our lives and feel more connected to Him.
But we read in an easy chair with a beverage and a nosh, taking notes and discussing the intention of the writers, the minutia, the controversial.
We read the most remarkable history of the world without a glimmer of suspense because we know how it turns out! **
We don’t bite our nails and wonder what will happen to Moses and the wandering Jews, if young David will kill or be killed, or if Jesus will actually be crucified and then, miracle of miracles, rise from the dead. In fact, we skip over the possibility that Jesus could have been killed in infancy by Ceasar’s huntsmen, as well as how it must have terrified Mary and Joseph, as we rather smugly criticize the skeptical disciples when they argue with Jesus about His upcoming and ultimate sacrifice.
We look at Mary and see a lovely, pious, faithful, obedient girl because that’s how the writers of the Gospels describe her. Sure, we talk about how difficult it must have been for her to be pregnant and not married, because that is one of the facts made clear in Luke’s gospel.
We often forget, though, that she was just a real girl living within the confines of a strict cultural and spiritual environment, with little life experience and no one who could answer her questions.
The sweet melody of Breath of Heaven draws me in immediately. But the lyrics, revealing a side of Mary that is real and deeply human, get me every time. I can identify with her plea —
Hold me together.
Be forever near me.
Lighten my darkness.
Pour over me your holiness for you are holy.
The physical similarities between Mary and me stop with the fact that we are both female – I’m not Jewish or young, I’ve never been pregnant and not married, nor have I given birth in a stable. And the most obvious differences? I have never been visited by an angel (not that I know of, anyway) nor have I carried and raised the Son of God.
But I have been cold, weary, frightened, and lonely, burdened by what I know is the right thing to do. And I have many more doubts about myself than about God.
And, in the deepest parts of my heart and soul, I have looked to Him to build me up, carry my burden, lighten my darkness.
I look forward to meeting Mary. She’ll be able to clear up a lot of my/our questions. But until then, I hope I remember that she was a girl like me in many ways… a normal person chosen by God to do His good will. I can only hope I do as good a job as she did.
And now, my lovelies, on this first Monday of December, I give you the blessing of humanity, in all of its challenges and all of its glory.
Until next week, I pray for you.
** To clarify, I’m not saying we don’t have questions. We don’t really understand Revelation and the end times, do we? There will forever be a controversy about Ham. And my question is how was Creation documented? Yes, we have plenty of questions.