December 7. “Mary Did You Know” - Mark Lowry (1984)
Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know.
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.
Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleep child you’re holding is the great I AM.
It may surprise you to learn that one of the most famous, modern Christmas songs which can be heard on radio stations throughout December, was written right here in good old Lynchburg, Virginia? The song is none other than the popular reflection, Mary Did You Know?
In 1970, Thomas Road Baptist Church began a Broadway-style Christmas program that, for decades, was known as The Living Christmas Tree. The TRBC choir would stand, like live ornaments in a large tree-shaped loft and fill the auditorium with the beautiful sounds of Christmas. Today, the program is known as the Virginia Christmas Spectacular.
In 1984, as preparations were being made for that year’s Living Christmas Tree, Dr. Jerry Falwell asked one of his church members to write the program. The virtually unknown singer-songwriter was none other than Mark Lowry.
In his efforts to write a memorable Living Christmas Tree program, Lowry took popular Christmas carols and hymns and interspersed them with play-like dialogue. While he was struggling to capture the wonder and amazement of that first Christmas, it was his mother, Bev, who gave him the spark of that original idea. In a casual conversation, one day, she simply commented to Mark, “You know, if anyone knew [Jesus] was virgin born, it was Mary…and her silence at the cross is proof, I think, that her story was indeed true.”
That simple observation, from his own mother, unleashed a torrent of questions and thoughts in Lowry’s mind about Jesus’ mother. In his own words, Lowry remembers the song’s beginnings like this:
That year, in 1984, Lowry’s reflections became the dialogue for TRBC’s program. What started as a mere play, though, was begging to become a song. There was only one piece missing: the music. Lowry spent years trying to track down the right notes to cradle his lyrical baby. Believe it or not, it was not until 7 years later that the lyrics found a musical home.
Lowry pitched the lyrics to a gospel music songwriter, Buddy Greene. Greene was well-known as an expert harmonica player but also as a staple of the Southern Gospel music scene. He had an ear for timeless tunes. According to Lowry, he shared the song idea with Greene while riding cross-country in a tour bus. He wrote the lyrics down on a piece of paper and gave them to Greene on a weekend.
Monday morning, Lowry’s phone rang. It was Buddy. In just about 30 minutes time, he had crafted a tune, which he sang to Mark over the phone, that fit the lyrics perfectly. As soon as he heard it, Lowry was hooked and began to make plans to produce the song.
By this time, in 1991, Lowry was singing and touring with The Gaither Vocal Band full-time. He felt like the song was too “rangy” for his personal abilities but had one singer in mind to record it: Michael English. English’s debut album, which featured the song, had a seasonally unfortunate release date of January 1, 1992. Though it made its first appearance after Christmas, the song was an instant hit that insured its longevity.
For years, Lowry refused to sing the song, publicly, thinking it was beyond his ability and musical comfort zone. However, one night during a Gaither concert in Detroit, an audience member yelled out, “Mark – Sing ‘Mary Did You Know’!” Lowry kindly refused, “Well, I don’t sing that,” to which the crowd responded with cheers and chants encouraging him to try. Lowry indulged the audience with an impromptu, a’cappella rendition. “Since then,” Lowry said, “I’ve sung it every night.”
While so many modern Christmas songs focus on “the season,” Lowry’s timeless work is a refreshing reminder of its “reason.” Surely, there are many things which Mary did not know. Yet, in her own song, Mary did, at least, know this:
“My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…For the Mighty One has done great things for me…The Lord has given help to Israel so that we remember His mercy.” (Luke 1:46ff)