I was listening to Christmas carols the other day when I reached three conclusions: I would NOT want to be Mary, I don’t particularly like the song “Mary Did You Know,” and it’s probably a good thing most of us don’t know. In case you’re not familiar with the song, here are a few lines of the lyrics:
“Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.”
First, I’m guessing Mary had a clue something was up, what with the virgin pregnancy and all. So she probably did know – or at least suspected. But secondly, what horrible things to say to a new parent! As if you’re not worried enough about your new, helpless baby and the tremendous responsibility of caring for him. You wouldn’t relax for a second if you thought your baby boy was Lord of all creation! What if you made a mistake? What if you *gasp* dropped the sleeping child, the Great I Am?! As he gets older, do you try to teach him right and wrong, mold his values? Or do you assume that, as heaven’s perfect Lamb, he already knows better than you and you should just try to stay out of the way? How would you begin to raise such a critically important person?
I wouldn’t want to be Mary because I don’t think I could handle the stress of the job. There’s an Amy Grant song that includes a line where Mary questions whether God wishes He had picked someone more worthy. I think I would feel that way every day. I find parenting hard enough with just a regular kid. Which is why I don’t really like the song “Mary Did You Know.” Maybe her baby boy “will one day walk on water,” but is it necessary to keep to harping on it to poor Mary, who is probably worried enough already? Why not just tell her she has a beautiful, exceptional child and leave it at that? Let her carry on with the hope that not knowing allows…
Working to end world hunger can be difficult and disheartening. There is always a need, and most root causes are systemic and interconnected, and therefore slow to change. Even when everyone agrees there’s a problem, opinions about priorities and approaches can vary broadly, making meaningful change difficult to even start, let alone achieve. Health care reform in the U.S. is a current case in point.
And then there’s my own participation in some of those systems, and the weariness I sometimes feel as I try to make the “best” decisions. Is it better for the environment to repair the old, less efficient dishwasher, or buy a new one that’s more efficient, but that required additional raw materials to make? How were the raw materials acquired? How do the various manufacturers treat their employees? Arguably I shouldn’t have a dishwaher at all. But I want one. When is it okay to buy what you want, even if you don’t need it? Weary, I tell you.
But then other times, we see how the work ELCA World Hunger is funding has made a significant difference in a community, or in shaping legislation, or building understanding and fostering a passion for change. And then I feel the satisfaction and hope of knowing that we have changed things for the better. And I have faith that we can continue to change things if we keep working at it.
But the same way I think Mary is better off not knowing exactly what her child will be, I think we’re better off not knowing exactly when or how things will change. In not knowing, there is neither complacency nor helplessness. There are not expectations that scare into paralysis. Instead, there is room for hope. There is room for faith and the motivation to keep trying, because the breakthroughs – small or large – could happen anytime. There is the understanding that ending hunger for even one person is an improvement worth striving for.
Christmas is a time of hope and anticipation. May we feel these great gifts woven throughout our lives: in our parenting, in our faith, in our work, and in our fight against hunger.
Have a very merry Christmas,