Mary, the mother of Jesus, was no wimp. The angel Gabriel declared that Mary was “highly favoured” and that the Lord was with her (Luke 1:26–28), which are Luke’s code words for the fact that Mary was a woman of substance. She was maybe 14 years old? Yet she stood her ground when she was visited by an angel and, when given her assignment, was more concerned about the biology of the assignment — how could a virgin bear a child — than the potential scandal and shame that must surely befall a young betrothed girl becoming pregnant before she had consummated her marriage.

God’s choice of Mary is instructive. She was young, in a world that placed a high value on age. She didn’t come from the palace, nor is it mentioned that she was a Levite. And she lived in Nazareth, not Jerusalem. By the valuations of this world, she was, well, ordinary. What made Mary extraordinary was her response to the assignment given to her. When told what she had to do, she replied:

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38a NIV)

She was clear about her identity — she was a servant of the Lord, and she knew what that meant — she accepted what the Lord wanted to do in and through her. Although she heard the angel’s proclamation, I am sure that, at that point in time, she would have had no idea that her submission to God’s purposes would open the way for the Messiah to enter human history and change it.

An extraordinary God chooses the ordinary to do His extraordinary work. We will see this theme repeated when God chooses shepherds to be the first group to hear the good news of the arrival of the Messiah — not kings, not priests, but ordinary shepherds.

This theme of God choosing the ordinary to reveal His extraordinary work is a reminder that His blessings are for all who will accept Him. His blessings are not reserved for the privileged and famous.

Which is why I am concerned about “celebrity apologetics”, when celebrities are paraded in an evangelistic context giving the impression that Christianity must be true because famous people believe in it. If God wanted to play that game, it’s strange that He would choose a Mary and the shepherds.

The point is everyone needs the gospel — rich and poor, famous and ordinary. God doesn’t deal with such binaries, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Testimonies are a powerful way to share the gospel but testimonies should come from all sorts of people.

God’s choice of Mary is also a statement that anyone can be used by God to do significant things if we are willing to trust and obey Him. The story of Mary, then, is both hope and challenge. If God blesses someone like Mary, none of us is beyond the scope of His grace. But the story of Mary is also a challenge. Will we emulate her trusting obedience to God? Who knows what may happen if we do that?