Adventures in Advent

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BY SUZANNE PARKER MILLER | @SuzParkerMiller on Facebook and Twitter |

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

“Mommy, Mommy, Wake up! Wake up! I just put Mary on the Advent Calendar!” So began my morning on December 1st. Lacking coffee and still rubbing my eyes to wake up, I dragged myself out of bed and into our Den to see the source of my son’s excitement. Our Fisher Price Little People Nativity Advent Calendar finally had someone Velcro-ed to it. My five-year-old son was so excited to finally begin the Advent calendars we had put out in the house four days before on the first Sunday of Advent on November 27th. Most Advent Calendars begin on December 1st in order to have a standard 25 days on the Calendar despite the number of days between the first Sunday in Advent and Christmas Day fluctuating each year. He had waited as patiently as a 5-year-old can near Christmas for those four first days of Advent to pass by, and he was so glad we could start the countdown officially!

“Mommy, Mommy, Wake up! Wake up! I just put Mary on the Advent Calendar!”

Advent is a season about waiting—waiting for the Christ Child to be born and waiting for Christ to come again. Christ is already here and yet Christ has not yet come. We live in an already-not yet world, and it is difficult on normal days, but is even more difficult this time of year. For my family to be better about living into the waiting of Advent, we have multiple Advent practices we have developed over the past few years. While they are not unique to our family, we claim them as our own. They help us focus on the season of Advent and not jump too quickly to Christmas and beyond.

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

We have four Advent calendars we are maintaining this year. The Advent Calendar my son added Mary to has a person or animal a day that we add to the manger scene by Velcro. Another is a coloring sheet he got at school. Yet another is a Lego figure that you build each day that he does with my spouse. And my favorite is one I ordered a few years ago online is a take on the Charlie Brown’s Christmas play, where we add one person or story element each day. My son is of an age now where he does them himself before school each day, and loves getting to show me his latest additions. Having these to help him count down to Christmas makes it easier for him to mark time and focus on the season.

We also have an advent wreath on our dinner table and, when we remember, we light the candles for that week at dinner. Having candles on the dinner table makes the meal feel even more special, and there’s always the fun of blowing out the candles at the end! My 20-month-old daughter loves to pretend to light the candles, and I envision her doing it for real during Worship one day when she is older.

A new Adventure in Advent for our family began with our Wise Ones from one of my nativity sets. Last year I discovered the Wandering Wisemen on Facebook. A mom in Kentucky came up with the idea to have her nativity scene’s Wisemen and their faithful camel travel around their home looking for the child. In the spirit of whimsy that Elf on the Shelf evokes for kids without the attachment to Santa, these Wisemen have adventures of all sorts. I decided to try this tradition with my own kids, so I’ve been moving our Wise Ones and their Camel around our home each night after the kids go to bed. They get to search for them in the morning to see what they are doing that day. They cannot touch though, or the camel might run off, as the note they left my kids the first day said. Follow our adventures on Facebook by searching the hashtag #WanderingWiseOnes.

nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

 

Nativity scene

Image courtesy of Suzanne Parker Miller

My final Adventure this year has been a fun opportunity for me to share my Nativity collection with those friends and family near and far on Facebook. I have been posting one Nativity from my collection each day since Advent began. I decided to take this on as my Advent Adventure this year because I wanted to have something positive and fun to post each day on Facebook (Along with my Wandering Wise Ones’ adventures). I have collected over 40 nativities from around the world, and my preferences are for ones that are more diverse and explore the Christmas Story within that culture’s own context. They draw me in to think about the deeper meanings of the story of the birth of Christ Jesus. I have a Nativity from Uganda that includes a water buffalo and one from Peru that has a dolphin in it, and these cause me to ask what animals were likely in the first nativity. This question draws me back into Scripture to look at it more closely and with new eyes. It has been a great practice for me, and I am really enjoying the feedback and comments people have shared on my photos. I have heard stories about friends’ nativity sets, and learned that ones I thought were unique are in fact made from a pattern. I am thankful social media has given me an opportunity to share them and for others to get pleasure in seeing them. They help me to appreciate the diversity of our world and see the story of Christ through other people’s eyes. Follow along with my Adventures in Advent at #NativityAdventure.

Wishing you and your family many Adventures in Advent this season!


If you have questions or need additional information, email (bhayesATmcsp.org) or call the Resource Center (336) 722-8126.

The Rev. Suzanne Parker Miller serves as Local Coordinator for InterExchange Au Pair USA for the Raleigh, NC area. She attends Ekklesia Church in Raleigh, a new church development that meets at Athens Drive High School. When not chasing her kids, she enjoys reading and playing The Settlers of Catan board game.

Suzanne pic

How Will You Let Jesus’ Light Shine?

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BY DOUG RIGHTS |

On Thursday evening, December 31, 2015 at the Youth New Year’s Eve Party in the Fellowship Hall at Fairview Moravian Church, I spread out Moravian Star points and markers on a table that included a sign that said, “On one of the star points share how will you let Jesus’ light shine in 2016 in you, your youth group, and/or your church?” At the party many of the youth and adults who attended wrote on the points. As the new year began, the points were put together and this Moravian Star has hung in my office throughout the year.

Moravian star image

In January I took the star to our Regional Youth Conference Retreat at Laurel Ridge, and many of the youth wrote their thoughts on the points. In February the star traveled to Florida for the Florida District Youth Retreat, and more was written on the star. Later in the year some of our area youth leaders wrote on it when we had a Youth Leaders Get Together. This fall I took the star to our Fall Celebration at Advent Moravian, and more thoughts were added. Here are what some had to say:

  • “I hope God will help us be bold in faith.”
  • “To help me get through my tough times.”
  • “I want to see all the youth on fire for our God.”
  • “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control.”
  • “I want our youth to shine by reaching out and meeting more people.”
  • “To provide a sense of direction in my life and show me where I should be going.”
  • “That our church loves God! We want Him to help us become the beacon of our community.”

Moravian star image

As this star has been in my office throughout 2015 (except for the times it went to the above mentioned events), it has been a constant reminder of all the wonderful youth and adults we have in our province and the many ways they want the light of Jesus to shine in their lives and in their churches. It is my hope and prayer that not only those who wrote on this star’s points, but that all of us, will let Jesus’ light shine in our lives and that we will see the great difference it makes when we do!

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As we come to our Christmas Lovefeast and Candle Services later this month, many of us will sing the traditional “Morning Star.” It is my prayer as we finish out 2016 and soon begin 2017, that the wonderful words of this hymn will be evident in our lives and in our province . . . “Jesus mine, in me shine!”


If you have questions or need additional information, email (drightsATmcsp.org) or call the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries at (336) 722-8126.

The Rev. Doug Rights is the Director of Youth, College, and Young Adult Ministries at the Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Here he is with his new grandson, Nolan Key (photo by Kathy Rights.) 

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The Great In-Between

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

The Great In-Between

“We are not who we were, and yet we are not who we will become.”
– Carrie Newcomer, singer/songwriter

Welcome to the great in-between. The recent national election reveals exactly how far we are from being the Church that truly represents the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We all survived past elections. Some of us grumbled and some of us celebrated, but we fairly quickly got on with our lives. This feels very different. The gaping divide among Americans shows no signs of ending. We are further apart than ever before, gathering and commiserating mostly with those who agree with us, getting our news from sources that agree with us, and doubling down on our convictions that we are right. Which means others must be wrong. And where are the Moravians in all of this? We’ve been pretty quiet, haven’t we?

Bishop Wayne Burkette recently expressed his view that many Moravian Churches are ‘purple’ – i.e. filled with a mix of political points of view. Unlike churches where all views are identical, he said, we are challenged by the real stories and real faith of people who view the world very differently from ourselves. Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ (Thanks to Brother John Jackman for using this in a post-election sermon.)

While this could be a positive for Moravians, it is a very fine line to walk. On the one hand, being purple might make our churches safe spaces, free of the turmoil and high emotion that often comes along with political discussion. On the other hand, it leaves many of us feeling empty and paralyzed, unsure how we engage in real community with those who love Christ with us. In our efforts to keep peace and maintain relationships, we avoid discussing difficult issues with one another.

What IS the Moravian way forward here?

Let’s face it, we modern Moravians are not those early, radical members of the ancient Unity who defied the state church of its day to form the first voluntary, peace church. We were early to embrace the idea of spiritual equality, where women, children, and people of color were considered equal in the eyes of God. We were early to head to the furthest ends of the earth, reaching out to the marginalized and those no one else wanted to even recognize as human.

We are not who we were.

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We are not who we will become either. We like the idea of returning to our roots, or at least letting those roots inform our faith today, but we struggle to live into that reality. The world can be a frightening place these days and we are uncertain how to proceed. It is easier to sit in our beautiful, not-quite-full sanctuaries and sing our familiar hymns, raising money to pay off the new organ or redecorate the parlor. We talk about our desire to grow and yet when those different from us appear in our sanctuaries, we shift uncomfortably in our pews. We talk about being missional, and then hold another chicken pie dinner and call it a day.

What is next for the church? How will God call us to a new thing, one that will challenge and maybe even frighten us, but also lead us to a new, Spirit-filled reality of faith, love, and hope?

This election, while divisive and unprecedented, actually provides us with an opportunity to come together in our “purple-ness,” move out of the great in-between and toward a future filled with grace and hope.

There are no easy answers. A newly-installed sign in my office reads: Hard things are hard. Ain’t that the truth!

Bishop Sam Gray provided us with some guidance in a recent post: “No matter what happens … in this election, Jesus Christ is still our Chief Elder. We must never allow partisan politics or personal preferences to get in the way of the mission that Jesus has entrusted… to us!”

To continue this mission entrusted to us, we must love each other. Only we can love each other. Only we can figure out new and different ways of being the church together. We won’t be able to do it if we can’t even talk to each other. We must listen in a way so as to recognize one another, and we must recognize everyone. We need each other now more than ever. (Here’s an example of how one church is doing this.)

And then, “We must be brave enough to speak and to listen, to share our hopes and our fears, and to remember that when we care for the least, whoever we consider to be least, we do it for Christ. The church has work to do, for ourselves, for those on whatever margins, and for the world around us.” (Brother Riddick Weber at Moravian Theological Seminary during a recent chapel service.)

And we do have all that we need to carry on Christ’s work in the world today. Ephesians 3: 20-21 (from The Message) lays it out for us. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Oh yes.

It is easy to complain about what leaders and governments are doing or not doing. But just like it was for our Moravian ancestors, our work as Christians is clear: Love our neighbors as ourselves. Love our enemies. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.

Let’s get to work as the church Jesus loves, moving closer to the people Jesus loves.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC.