Sermon Sunday, December 18, 2011

Luke 1:26-38*

Bold Confidence From God’s Love For Us”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, pastor and preacher

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In the haunting words of dance diva Tina Turner, “What’s love got to do with it?” we hear this ancient story of what seems to be love gone wrong.  A teenage girl surprised to learn she is pregnant.  She is from the lower rungs of the economic strata of society.  The religion of her family is as small and insignificant on the world scene as a drop of water in the vast oceans.  Her fiancé wavers in his support for her, as he knows the child to come is not his own.  Unmarried, uncertain, and unsupported she is forced by harsh and unthinking political machinations to travel many miles at the very time she is anticipated to give birth.  And then, as if to add insult to injury, no decent accommodations can be secured and her precious baby is born out back in the barn, a hole in the hillside carved out to keep beasts of burden dry and alive, barely.  By all accounts this child should be born into bitterness, rage, humiliation, and despair, not love.  Not love.  And yet… And yet…

Love has everything to do with it.  This is no ordinary birth, but equally important, this is no ordinary young woman.  She has that which is transforming, that which is sustaining, that which money cannot buy and greed and heartache cannot steal.  She has a love born of a deep and abiding faith… faith in God, faith in the future, faith in her child, but most critically, a faith in herself.  Mary of Galilee understands that the One who created her, redeems her, and sustains her would not leave her nor forsake her.  She lived what would someday be written about the very child in her womb, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  (1 John 4:7-8)

The Annunciation, Herbert Gurschner, 1929-30. Tate Gallery

This young woman, wise beyond her years and strong beyond her standing in society, would live out in this defining moment what the babe she would soon give birth to would years later preach, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)  In the single hardest act of human character, she realizes at the very same moment that she is the most insignificant human being alive, and the very one God has chosen to bring salvation to the world.  To love God, neighbor, and self at the same time is to bring the forces of the universe together in a powerful world-changing combination.  Humility linked with courage.  Self-less-ness bonded with self-assurance.  This is how the world is changed.

And so… in respect, in honor, and in celebration of the amazing love of this woman we know as Mary, I would like to step back from my own words and offer the words of three other people who, in their own ways, help us to understand that love, true love, is fired in the crucible of a self-confidence, courage, and brave audacity born not of ego nor of self-indulgence but of a deep humility and faith.

Let me begin with the words from an unlikely source for life-changing texts, the pop charts of the American music industry.  A song, made famous a few years ago by singer Christina Aguilera, written by Linda Perry:

[Watch the video here: ]

Don’t look at me


Every day is so wonderful

Then suddenly, it’s hard to breathe

Now and then, I get insecure

From all the pain, I’m so ashamed


I am beautiful no matter what they say

Words can’t bring me down

I am beautiful in every single way

Yes, words can’t bring me down, ohh, no

So don’t you bring me down today


To all your friends, you’re delirious

So consumed in all your doom

Trying hard to fill the emptiness

The piece is gone, left the puzzle undone

Ain’t that the way it is


‘Cause you are beautiful no matter what they say

Words can’t bring you down, ohh, no

‘Cause you are beautiful in every single way

Yes, words can’t bring you down, ohh, no

So don’t you bring me down today


No matter what we’ll do

No matter what we’ll say

We’re the song inside the tune

Full of beautiful mistakes


And every where we go

The sun will always shine

And tomorrow we might awake

On the other side


‘Cause we are beautiful no matter what they say

Yes, words won’t bring us down, no, no

We are beautiful in every single way

Yes, words can’t bring us down, ohh, no

So don’t you bring me down today

Don’t you bring me down today

Don’t you bring me down today (1)


A second reading, this time from over a hundred years ago, from the writings of sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, and author, W. E. B. DuBois in his ground-breaking book, The Souls Of Black Folks:

Up the new path the advance guard toiled, slowly, heavily, doggedly; only those who have watched and guided the faltering feet, the misty minds, the dull understandings, of the dark pupils of these schools know how faithfully, how piteously, this people strove to learn. It was weary work. The cold statistician wrote down the inches of progress here and there, noted also where here and there a foot had slipped or some one had fallen. To the tired climbers, the horizon was ever dark, the mists were often cold, the Canaan was always dim and far away. If, however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting-place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination; it changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, self-respect. In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission. He began to have a dim feeling that, to attain his place in the world, he must be himself, and not another. (2)

And finally, back to the late 20th century, words so powerful they have been attributed, mistakenly, to the inaugural speech of Nelson Mandela after the fall of apartheid and his election to be President of a new and fully-integrated South Africa after decades of imprisonment.  In fact, these words were written by Marianne Williamson, whose book, A Course In Miracles gave hope and healing to literally thousands of people, many who were HIV+ gay men and women who found enormous hope and possibility in her words.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (3)

My beloved, there is most certainly a spiritual discipline in practicing the gift that Mary of Galilee, mother of Jesus, lived out exquisitely: humble courage, thoughtful boldness, and self-less confidence.  When we do this, when we allow our light to shine, we are then… and only then… capable of truly loving.  Love God!  Love your neighbor!  Love yourself!


(1) Beautiful, Songwriter(s): Perry, Linda; Performed by Christina Aguilera, Copyright: © SONY/ATV HARMONY, © STUCK IN THE THROAT MUSIC; found online at

(2) W.E.B. Du Bois (1868–1963).  The Souls of Black Folk.  1903.  Chapter I. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”  Found online at

(3) Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles.  Found online at:

*See also Ephesians 3:7-13 for how the Apostle Paul lived this humble confidence out.