(RNS) — For Mark Lowry, nearly day by day is Christmas.
At any time when the storyteller and singer takes the stage for a live performance, he at all times closes the present with the identical track — “Mary Did You Know?” — it doesn’t matter what time of 12 months it’s.
“When you’ve gotten one hit, you higher finish with it,” Lowry mentioned in a current telephone interview.
Lowry co-wrote “Mary Did You Know?” with Buddy Greene, a well-respected songwriter and instrumentalist, in 1991, whereas each have been on tour with famed gospel singers Invoice and Gloria Gaither. Recorded first by Christian singer Michael English, the track has turn into a contemporary Christmas staple — coated by a number of the largest names within the enterprise: Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd, Mary J. Blige, Clay Aiken, Carrie Underwood and the a cappella vocal group Pentatonix.
The concept for the track dates again to conversations the 63-year-old had along with his mom about Jesus and Mary. Most revolved across the query: What was it like to boost the son of God?
“Actually, what was it like instructing the Phrase of God to speak,” he mentioned, referring to a title used for Jesus within the Gospel of John. “What was it like to present him a haircut? Did she ever stroll into his room and say, ‘clear this mess up’?”
He added that a lot of the questions he had didn’t make their means into the track — solely those that rhymed made it.
These conversations additionally touched on religious matters, just like the thriller of the incarnation, mentioned Lowry — the Christian perception that God grew to become human within the individual of Jesus. They finally impressed a collection of brief monologues Lowry wrote in 1984 for a Christmas live performance at Thomas Street Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, then led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. These monologues have been the glue that held the present collectively, serving as a transition from one Christmas track to a different.
They caught with Lowry, who thought they could work for a track if he may discover the precise music. A number of musicians tried to give you melodies, however none match, mentioned Lowry. Then, whereas on tour with the Gaithers, he confirmed the lyrics to Greene and requested him to have a go. Greene took them dwelling and began engaged on some music. Lowry recollects that Greene, who couldn’t be reached, had spent a day listening to Christmas carols written in minor keys, like “What Baby is This?” and “We Three Kings” earlier than composing the melody for “Mary Did You Know?”
“It was stunning,” he mentioned. “It was haunting, and it made the track work. It didn’t take away from the message — it elevated the message.”
Whereas writing lyrics, Lowry mentioned he imagined himself as an excessively enthusiastic angel who confirmed up on the manger in the course of the Christmas story and was crammed with questions. He used the phrase, “Do you know” to specific that enthusiasm — as if the angel was effervescent over with pleasure for what the beginning of Jesus meant. The questions within the track are the questions Lowry would have requested if he had been there.
However that phrase has gotten Lowry in bother lately — seen as a form of theological mansplaining.
“Listeners have complained that, sure, Mary knew that she was going to bear the Messiah, the promised salvation of Israel, and that, due to this fact, the rhetorical query upon which the track rests is both redundant or condescending,” creator Pleasure Clarkson, host of the “Talking with Pleasure” podcast, wrote in a 2018 article entitled, “Sure, Mary Knew.”
That phrase has additionally impressed a collection of sarcastic social media posts. “Mary do you know … that there’s a boy on his solution to reward your new child with a drum solo,” tweeted creator and pastor Courtney Ellis. “Mary do you know we’ve been attempting to succeed in you about your prolonged guarantee,” tweeted Texas lawyer Robert Callahan II. There’s even apparently a satire of the track, entitled “Mary Freaking Knew.”
Lowry is fairly good-natured in regards to the criticism of the track. He’s fast to confess it has shortcomings — which he thinks are extra evident to his fellow Christians who’re extra aware of theology than the typical one who hears the track. The very last thing he wished to do was to insult Mary or anger his fellow believers.
“I by no means meant for it to start out a battle or irritate folks,” he mentioned. “I positively didn’t need that.”
That response suits Lowry’s character. He’s lengthy used humor to assist his fellow evangelicals loosen up, preferring laughter to a battle any day.
“We’ve portrayed to the world that we’re superhuman beings, and we’re not,” he told Faith Information Service in a 1999 interview. “We’re simply sinners in want of a savior.”
Nonetheless, he’s grateful for what he known as the “miracle of the track.” Lowry, who has by no means been married, views his songs as his kids. None of them, he mentioned, has grown and had a lifetime of their very own the way in which “Mary Did You Know” has. Most of all, he hopes the track will level folks to the story of the child Jesus and what his arrival would imply.
“I hope the track makes folks take into consideration the child Jesus,” he mentioned. “I hope it sends them operating to Luke 1 to seek out out what Mary knew.”