One of my favorite modern Christmas anthems is Mary, Did You Know? It poses a series of fictional questions to the young Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, wondering just how much she might have known about the destiny of her firstborn child. I appreciate when talented artists help us gain a deeper understanding of the personalities and characters of scripture figures.
Sometimes these ancient individuals can seem a little flat and unidimensional, like the pages that contain their stories. But surely they were robust and complex, not unlike human beings today. Can you put yourself in Mary’s situation? She was young, inexperienced, yet full of hope for a pending marriage to a man she loved. She probably had a plan of how their lives would unfold, including where they would live, when they’d start a family and other important life goals. Then the wheels completely came off with a simple salutation, from an angel, saying, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28).
Mary was confused at the angel’s greeting. He explained that she had been selected to be the earthly mother of Jesus, the literal Jewish Messiah. Through her gospel study, she knew the implications of such grand news. She also knew, through her secular study, how human conception happened. This prompted her first recorded question, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). The angel explained the unprecedented process, which probably made little overall sense to Mary, but she responded in faith by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
I marvel at Mary’s conviction. Surely her mind was flooded with questions such as “Where are we going to live? How is Joseph going to react? How can I possibly raise the Son of God?” These were important questions that she had yet to answer. Gabriel’s visit, although inspiring and amazing, likely resulted in Mary having more questions and fewer answers than she had before his coming. Yet she took the angel at his word and moved forward, with determination, into the unknown future. At each step of the way, the Lord illuminated a portion of the path forward. Little did she know that her humble pledge to “be it unto me according to thy word” would lead her to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem, and eventually Golgotha, where she would grieve at the feet of her dying, perfect Child (see John 19:25-27).
Joseph, Did You Know?
Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, was probably as inexperienced and unproven as she was. Yet he was a stalwart young man, looking forward with anticipation to marriage with his beautiful bride-to-be. I’m sure, like Mary, he also had plans for their future together. And, like Mary, his plans were spectacularly derailed as heard the news of her pregnancy. Can you imagine the tsunami of questions that entered Joseph’s mind? “How could this happen? Will anyone believe that her story of ‘immaculate conception’ is true? Can I believe it myself? What do I do?” Joseph’s introduction to this life-changing event was different than Mary’s. Mary had the benefit of an angelic visit and explanation before she became pregnant. Joseph had no such visit (yet). He was left to struggle with his thoughts; questions turning over and over in his mind. Joseph was a good person. He could have rightly and ethically made a public spectacle of Mary, who was pregnant outside of wedlock. But because he loved her, he determined to end their relationship quietly. I believe that the thought of doing this broke his tender heart, but he probably felt he had no choice.
Joseph pondered his dilemma. I’m sure he was prayerful and sought revelation. His thoughtful and humble approach was rewarded by heaven: “But while he [Joseph] thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 1:20; emphasis added). In Joseph’s case, it was only after he had faced the challenge and given adequate consideration that the revelation came. He followed the heavenly pattern to “study it out in your mind” (D&C 9:8) and qualified for the blessing. Having received an answer to his question, Joseph acted with obedience and haste: “Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife” (Matthew 1:24).
Mary and Joseph, Did You Know?
Twelve years later, Mary and Joseph took their growing family to Jerusalem for Passover. The young Jesus left the group and found His way to the temple. There He taught men three and four times His age, astonishing them with His understanding of gospel truths. When Mary and Joseph discovered Jesus was missing, they were surely filled with grief and fear, having no idea where He was. When they finally found Him, we read Mary’s second recorded question. “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). Jesus responded, reminding His parents that He was not just another one of Mary and Joseph’s children.
Jesus had a specific mission that He was beginning to understand; a mission that would significantly differentiate Him from His siblings and other Israelite youth. I expect that Mary and Joseph were only beginning to understand His purpose as well. Perhaps this event raised even more questions for the young parents. Mary, being a thoughtful and chosen person, did as she had at the time of His birth: “But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51; see also Luke 2:19). I’m sure she and Joseph had many long talks about their role, their inadequacies, and how they could best help the young Messiah prepare for His critical mission.
Why Ask Questions?
The questions asked by Mary and Joseph led to additional revelation. They also led to opportunities to build faith. The scriptures are full of examples where questions preceded amazing results. A question spared the Jaredites and led them to a land of promise (see Ether chapter 1). A question led to Enos’ return to the covenant path (see Enos chapter 1). A series of penetrating questions helped the wayward saints in Zarahemla repent (see Alma chapters 5 and 6). And a simple question, asked by a thoughtful fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith, ushered in the dispensation of the fulness of times (see JSH chapter 1). Questions are important. Questions are encouraged by God. As James wrote in the verse that inspired young Joseph, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5; emphasis added). And as Joseph opined, asking a question was the only way for him to potentially exit the bewilderment he experienced: “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God” (JSH 1:13).
Some presume that having a question about gospel principles represents a lack of faith. On the contrary, I believe that having questions about gospel principles is the fertile soil where faith can increase. Having questions can lead to action. Asking questions can lead to discovery. Please don’t despair if you have questions about gospel principles. View your questions as fuel to help you discover, attain, and remain on the covenant path. As you seek answers, choose your sources wisely. We live in an age of information, surrounded by voluminous and easily accessible opinions. Some of those opinions are correct; some are incorrect. Try to live your life in a way where you can recognize and understand the voice of the Holy Ghost. Follow His promptings regarding where to seek information and answers. With the Holy Ghost as your guide, you can navigate the myriad opinions, cut through the misinformation, and arrive at truth. As the prophet Jacob taught, “The Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).
Asking questions can help us receive divine answers. Divine answers can guide our path and teach us important things about ourselves. When answers are delayed, or answers create even more questions, we can be like Mary and Joseph. We can move forward in faith, trusting in knowledge already received and hoping for further enlightenment. Keep asking questions. Keep seeking answers. And believe that your Father in Heaven, who loves you above all, will eventually help you see everything clearly.