Nice Song . . . Wait, Whaaah? And where’s Joseph?

Merry Christmas! Have a wonderful, quiet, blessed day full of all the good things that Christmas can be.

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Edited on December 27 to add: Welcome Instapundit Readers! Thanks for stopping by.

I listened to the regional girls’ choir singing Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.” They did a good job, but something about the lyrics bugged me, beyond just the too-repetitive, too-modern, too-simple usual complaint I have about modern pop-Christian music.* Afterwards, the girls were chatting about the concert, and I asked one who I’ve seen at the school which song was their favorite.

“Oh, Miss Red, ‘Breath of Heaven.'”


“Because Mary was a single mom just like the ones today, and G-d took care of her, and the song really gets that. And it’s pretty.”

Thump. Oh-kay. I realize that 6th graders are not generally considered experts in theology, but I wonder where she picked that idea up, assuming it is hers and not something she read on the ‘Net or that someone told her. Alas, it fits all too well with something the writer Kathleen Norris observed at a conference, when the speaker managed to infuriate both the black Baptist deaconess sitting on Norris’s right and the Greek Orthodox priest on her left, by claiming that G-d told Mary “Hey, so you got pregnant. It’s OK” and that people should be telling modern teens that. It also made me wonder what ever happened to Joseph?

The Gospel of Luke is what most people seem to associate with the Nativity and Christmas. But the Gospel of Matthew has an important point in it – Joseph “being a good man” didn’t plan to make Mary’s pregnancy public and ask for her to be punished. And he stayed with her, believing the angel in his dreams, and accepting the child as if it were his. Mary was not “just like” modern single mothers.

But that seems to be an unfortunate trend in pop theology and therapeutic Christianity. There’s nothing wrong with being a single mom, or by implication, with the actions required to get in that condition. Or worse, you have the guest editorial writer in the Washington Post who claimed that the Christian Church’s making Mary an example of the importance of bodily purity is hurtful to rape victims and that no human should be expected to be celibate until marriage, and that to recommend such is triggering and cruel. Which, even though I’m not Catholic, is not anywhere in the teachings about Mary that I’ve read or come across.

And it still leaves out Joseph, and that he supported Mary, and cared for her, and as best the Gospels suggest, raised Jesus as his own son, taught him a trade and saw that he grew up properly. (OK, there is that story about Child Jesus killing some of the kids in Nazareth for insulting him and Mary, and Mary ordering him to resurrect them, but that’s from one of those writings that is not on anyone’s approved Scripture list.)

The lyrics to “Breath of Heaven” are a scared young woman asking for emotional support and wondering if G-d has second thoughts about picking someone as inexperienced and uncertain as she is. Which collides with some theological ideas I’ve read, but not all of them. I still don’t care for the song, but I feel better after looking up the lyrics. A little better. And I still wonder what else the singers have been told about the Nativity.

*”Mary Did You Know?” is another song that lots of people love, with great music, and lyrics that make me wince in spots.



21 thoughts on “Nice Song . . . Wait, Whaaah? And where’s Joseph?

      • I heard a version yesterday that changed the verb tense, so it became ‘Mary did you know, that your baby boy WILL one day . . .” So instead of a modern looking back to Mary, it seemed to be, oh, maybe Simeon or Anna the Prophetess, or John the Baptist singing. Totally threw me out of the music and into some serious theological “what the huh?” I have no idea what inspired the shift.

      • Pentatonix’s cover of “Mary, Did You Know” is very powerful. I have no idea if they’re Christians, but the emotion they put into it it sure sounds like it.

  1. “celibate until marriage”
    I think you mean chaste until marriage. Everyone is celibate until marriage (at least, their first one) by definition.

  2. I am prone to agree with you. It is unfortunate that the role of St. Joe has been reduced to a secondary cast slot. It does little to emphasive his importance in providing for The Christ Child or the Virgin Mary.

    That said, the New Testament itself seems to de emphasize his presence as well. After the Trip to the Temple where Jesus is “lost” & begins teaching – little is noted of St. Joseph’s presence. Perhaps the wedding at Cannea but I do not recall. But certainly after that St. Joseph is lost to Accounts of Jesus’ travels & sacrifice

  3. I haven’t heard the Amy Grant song, but they missed an important point in the Gospel narrative. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, which, as I understand it, meant that they were bound together in a formal relationship that could not be consummated until the marriage ceremony.
    Protestant theology tries to make Christian life pain free, effortless, and easy. Life isn’t and neither is following God.
    As for “Mary, Did you know?” Do you think a message from an angel might have been a clue?

    • Betrothal was very close to marriage under the law of the time, and straying from the betrothal was considered a form of adultery.

      And yes, given everything else the Gospels say that Mary remembered, you would think that Gabriel’s initial message would be near the top of the list of hints that Jesus would not be your average man.

  4. Why can’t you say “God” in your post about sanitizing Christmas? I liked it a lot but that made me wince in spots.

    • I believe that it is a sign of respect and avoiding any possibility of taking the Lord’s name in vain. It is far more common with devout Jews and I guess some Christians.

  5. Mark Lowrey, the songwriter of Mary, Did You Know, stated in a concert that these were questions that he wanted to ask Mary. He wondered if she actually realized when she was pregnant with Jesus, just how Wonderful He was. The angel may have appeared to Mary and she responded “Be it unto me according to Your will” but Mark always wondered whether she realized as a young woman that He would save the world.

    • I suspect her answer would have depended on if by “world,” Mr. Lowrey meant the Children of Israel or all people everywhere. I’d hazard that her answer to the first would be “Yes.” To the second . . . that’s a lot more complicated.

      • I’ve seen well-supported speculation by a theologian & scriptorian that during His life, or at very least during His childhood, the full nature of Jesus’ divinity was kept from Mary’s mind so that she could function as a mother without the constant awareness that this was the Holy One of Israel she was bathing and feeding and helping to walk. Not something to which I can testify, but it is… compatible with my own experience with the Author.

  6. The thing that gets me every year is those saying the Nativity is a story about a homeless family, or, the popular meme this year, refugees. Sorry to bust a good narrative, but Joseph and Mary had a home in Nazareth, but they has to go to Bethlehem to pay taxes. Maybe, instead, we should look to the Nativity as an example of how taxes can drive people from their homes and leave them to sleep in a barn.

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