Our Invitation to the Manger

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BY AMY LINVILLE |

Idyllic winter scene

Photo by Pixabay via Pexels.com

Okay, don’t tell my husband, the Rev. Aaron Linville, but I love to sing Christmas hymns—sometimes, even during Advent. I know, I know, it’s terrible and I should respect Advent—and I do. In the past, guest writers for this blog have reflected on Advent hymns during this season, but with Christmas being tomorrow, I think it’s safe to squeeze in a reflection on a Christmas hymn. These days especially, the hope, joy, and peace offered by many Christmas hymns is irresistible. And nothing lifts my spirits, no matter the time of year, like hearing and singing my favorite Christmas hymn: Softly the Night is Sleeping (Moravian Book of Worship, 284).

Image of a boy looking hopefully up at a Christmas tree

Photo by Jeswin Thomas via Pexels.com

The slow and soft start, the sharp call to listen: “but hark!”, and belting out the refrain—it’s truly exciting to sing. It’s a roller coaster of a song telling the amazing story of Christ’s birth. It moves from a serene, almost bucolic scene with shepherds, interrupting them with a blast of beautiful bursting from the sky, bringing forth the dawn and joyous new life, and ending with an invitation to join the people and beings of all rank in glad praise.

*Whew*–I never knew a Christmas song could be exhausting, but this one really packs in a lot. There is so much descriptive language and emphatic punctuation—look at the number of exclamation points in that song! I am envious of each verse. I long for peaceful hills and music falling from the sky, crimson mornings and smiling infants, gladsome visitors and a heart of sunshine.

Despite it being Christmas, our hearts might not feel like they are made of sunshine or growing three sizes. Babies cry, mornings are cold and gray, and the noises of the busy world can drown out all the music falling from the sky. And it often seems like the earth has not seen peace since that still and silent night thousands of years ago.

Personal pain and the pain of the world can feel sharper when we are reminded of this wondrous night each year. And though for me, this song is a joyous one, I know that the dreams presented in this song and many other ones can seem out of reach. Peaceful hills and clear mornings can be infrequent and unheard of for so many today, and we can find ourselves feeling defeated when our lives don’t seem to resemble the beautiful scenes in Christmas songs.

Image of manger

Photo by Greyson Joralemon via Unsplash.com

But, as my husband always reminds me, because Jesus is born like this: of a woman and in a stable, and grew up as a human person, every aspect of our lives is blessed. When we are poor and lowly, we can still come to God, for Jesus was once poor and lowly. And that’s what I love about the last verse of this song, that we are invited into this beautiful scene. No matter who or where we are in life, whether we are fearful shepherds, confused wise men, stressed computer technicians, patient caretakers, or indecisive students, we are all invited to come to our God. We don’t have to bring a side dish or gift for Dirty Santa. We don’t have to make small talk or clean the house. We are invited to simply come to our God, and there find our own soft, sleeping night like that night so long ago.


Questions? Comments? Contact Amy Linville at Amy@MoravianBCM.org or call (336) 722-8126 Ext. 404

Amy Linville

Amy Linville is the College Ministry Coordinator for the Moravian BCM. She spends her time outside of work taking classes to become a librarian, serving Rural Hall Moravian with her husband the Rev. Aaron Linville, and snuggling her puppy and two cats.


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The Path to Purpose

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BY ZACH ROUTH |

“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you may live deep within your heart.”1

Sixteen months ago, I boarded a plane to an unfamiliar place for a weekend of what I anticipated would be fun and fellowship with Moravian friends from across America. My destination was Wisconsin and the Board of World Mission’s 2016 FIT Event at Mt. Morris. In the weeks prior, I had just begun a new graduate program at NC State University pursuing a PhD in Sociology.

It was the opportunity of a lifetime, with a full scholarship, an office, and the chance to do meaningful research at a great school. FIT² was only a blip on my radar. Little did I know, the weekend would provide a nudge that would eventually send my neatly-planned life into a whirlwind of chaos.

Image of 2016 FIT First attendees around a campfire

2016 FIT First attendees congregate around a campfire. | Photo by Mike Riess, IBOC

It started with a conversation around a campfire. Some friends asked me about my plans and my goals. My answers were vague and brief. I was going to do research in education because that was a cause I believed in and where I could make a difference. Some asked if I was going to go into the ministry like my dad and I scoffed at those possibilities.

Conversations continued through the weekend. Presentations, focus groups, and fellowship distracted me from responsibilities back in North Carolina, and poked holes in what I thought I knew about myself.

Photo of FIT First event

Attendees participate in an activity led by Bishop Sam Gray at the 2016 FIT First event. | Photo by Mike Riess, IBOC

By Sunday afternoon, discomfort grew within my gut. As my peers made awesome plans to go out and serve the world, I wondered silently, “What in the world am I doing?” Up until this point my answer was easy: five or so years of graduate school and then I will go on to help others using my research. This answer was no longer sufficient.

“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace.”1

Before I came to college, I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to help others. I first considered being a history teacher, and eventually settled on sociology professor. My research looked into school segregation, spatial stratification, and teacher job satisfaction, among other topics. It was my way of bringing about peace and justice to the world.

As the semester progressed, my discomfort grew. The pressures of school and life as a young adult mounted into a hill of anxiety. The goals I had worked so hard to achieve now seemed like a pipe dream, not because I was struggling, but because my motivation was gone.

By Thanksgiving, I reached a wall. I talked with friends, reflected, and prayed. “What in the world am I doing?” turned into, “Who in the world am I serving?”

I had spent the entire semester learning about the joys and tribulations that define the lives of school teachers. One day it finally hit me. Everything I wanted to achieve could be done as a teacher. There, my work would not be stored in a library or buried in an academic journal. My work would be preparing youth for their future.

Before Christmas, I resigned from my position and transferred into the College of Education to become a high school social studies teacher. Gone was the scholarship, gone was the prestige, but gone was the aimlessness.

Image of man looking down road

Photo by Danka and Peter via Unsplash.com

“May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”1

“Why do you want to be a teacher?” is the new question I ask myself, and a question I am asked almost weekly. My short answer succinctly describes my belief in public education. The full answer is rooted in my faith as a Christian and a Moravian.

In 2018, I will enter the workforce not only as a teacher, but as a servant of God. My mission field is in the classroom where I hope to share the type of compassion and love that our Lord has shown to me.

Some are called to serve from the pulpit, or in foreign locations, but neither of those options are in my wheelhouse. I imagine I am not the only one who has this sentiment.

Our creator has equipped each of his children to serve one another. Discovering where these gifts are to be used can be a tedious process. It may take some nudging, and you will probably feel uncomfortable, but in the end, you will be led exactly where you need to be.

I am thankful for the discomfort I experienced a year ago. I look forward to living out my purpose for years to come. God has blessed me to be foolish enough to think that I can make a difference in the world, and I am grateful.


1A Franciscan Blessing
Claiborne, Shane, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Common Prayer: a Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. Zondervan, 2012.

²Information about FIT 2015


Photo of Zach Routh

Photo courtesy of Zach Routh

Zach Routh is a member of Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, North Carolina and also attends Raleigh Moravian Church. He is a student at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina pursuing a Masters of Arts in Teaching: Secondary Social Studies. Zach will graduate in May of 2018 and plans to begin teaching in the fall.

Contact Zach at ZDRouth@NCSU.edu


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Wait! It’s Not Christmas Yet

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BY THE REV. CHAZ SNIDER |

Photo by Andrew David Cox

Often this time of year is associated with waiting, whether it is waiting in line at the mall to get that special present or waiting in traffic on the highway just to get to mall.

Maybe it is waiting in line to take your kids to go see Santa or waiting for Foothills to release its seasonal beer, the People’s Moravian Porter (something I know I have been waiting on).

It seems like we have been waiting for Christmas to come since October. I remember this year seeing Halloween and Christmas decorations next to each other at the store.

So when Thanksgiving has ended and we finished up all the leftovers it feels like Christmas has begun. Our Christmas trees go up, our sanctuaries get decorated, and the Moravian stars get hung up all over town. Christmas is here… right?

The answer (according to our liturgical calendar) is, well, no! We have to have Advent first and, then we get to Christmas.

Photo by Andrew David Cox

Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. We may be used to seeing Advent wreaths or Advent calendars, but often times we don’t fully celebrate this time of year. (The Moravian star is also known as the Advent star). 

Advent is a time of preparing and getting ready. If we rush onto Christmas, we fail to get everything we can out of this special season in the church calendar.

I remember when I was kid I would examine the presents under the tree after my mom wrapped them. I would shake them, pick them up to see how much they weighed, each day trying to figure what was in them.

When I was allowed to open the first gift, I would base my choice on my in-depth research. All of that waiting, examining, and trying to figure it out would build up to the one choice of which gift would be opened first.

I rarely guessed right by the way. I still had no idea what was coming (except for Legos–they have a very distinct noise when shaken). 

Despite all my trying to figure it out, my excitement of opening that first gift was not diminished. And even though I still didn’t know what was coming, every year I kept examining the gifts under the tree anyways.

Image of young child in front of Christmas tree

Photo by Andrew Neel, via Unsplash.com

There are different kinds of waiting. There is a passive kind of waiting, where we do nothing until whatever we are waiting on arrives. Like waiting in traffic.

And there is also an active waiting–maybe “anticipation” is a good word for it. With that kind of waiting we prepare, we get things ready, we examine and reflect. We shake the box. What is it? What does it mean to us? 

That is what the season of Advent is about. It is about actively anticipating God coming into this world.

It is about reflecting on the areas of our life where God is already dwelling and examining the places where we hope God will enter into.

Christmas is about the entrance of God into the world in order to reconcile and heal all the fractured places.

Advent is about preparing ourselves for that coming. In Advent, we reflect on where reconciliation is needed and we hope for God to come with healing love.

That is even more important this Advent because our world, our country, and our society seem more broken, fractured, and divided than ever.

So remember it is not Christmas yet. Take time with the remaining weeks of Advent to stop, to reflect, to anticipate, to shake the box and prepare for the bursting forth of God in our world.

 


Photo of Chaz Snider

Rev. Chaz Snider is the pastor at Ardmore Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, NC


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Stress in Faith

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BY LILLY BRENDLE |

Image of young man stressed out

Photo by Tim Gouw, via Pexels.com

Life is full of trials and tribulations. No matter where you are in life, speed bumps that can sometimes feel like walls show up to slow you down. These moments can bring one down to a point where it feels like there is no one or nothing to help you.

Some of my friends are struggling in their identity and life as a teenager. Relationships, school work, what to wear to school, how to fit in. You name it, and a teen is stressing out over it. So many situations stress us out and you have a choice whether to let it slow you down or make your wheels turn a little harder.

I know that thinking about the future stresses me out. College in the fall, my career choices, and even a big test I have tomorrow worries me. Not knowing my purpose or where my decisions will lead me causes me to question myself and my faith. I know that I am not supposed to worry and stress over things that are out of my control, but I do it anyway.  

God says “Cast your cares on the Lord  and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken,” Psalm 55:22. I go to the Lord with my struggles and worries, but sometimes I feel like I am not asking the Lord. Instead, I feel like I am asking myself to fix my own problems.

Photo of forking forest path

Photo by Jens Lelie, via Unsplash.com

As a child, I was taught to trust in the Lord with all my heart and I will be given strength. This message has been said time and time again, and I think we as humans hyper focus on those words and end up stressing ourselves out to make sure that we are following this guidance out of a sense of obligation. We as Christians should instead let go of our tight grip on the things in life and give ourselves the freedom to trust in the Lord. Not only will this help to mellow our stress, but we might find that we become better stewards and examples for others.

Helping others and sharing experiences has always been a passion of mine and helps me to feel more grounded. Not only can you see your words changing others’ behavior, but you get the chance to mean something to someone.

Recently, these situations have been presented to me by some of my close friends. Some people think that it is a sign of weakness to ask for help, because they say “there is nothing wrong with me, I don’t need help” or “I can handle my own problems.” But there is nothing wrong in seeking guidance, because to seek guidance in others of faith is to seek guidance in the Lord. “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you”(Isaiah 35:4).

Photo of person praising God next to a cross

Photo via Pexels.com

As youth in the church, we should make more of an effort to reach out to our friends and neighbors in need. Even if you aren’t a youth, everyone who helps the least of these will indeed be helping the gracious Lord himself. Through all the stress and anxiety of the world, the Lord is your backbone. Sometimes you forget he is there, but he is the only way you move through the day, despite the stress.

The future will come as it does and whatever God put on your path, he has an intention for it and you. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34. Chose to be stopped by the speed bump or go over it with confidence.

 


About the Author

 

Photo of Lilly Brendle

Photo via Lilly Brendle

Lilly Brendle is a senior at North Forsyth High School. She attends Fairview Moravian Church. Lilly loves to sing and play hand bells in church, as well as participate in youth led events for the younger children.


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#MoravianStar2017 Social Media Campaign

#MoravianStar2017 graphic

Moravians! Advent is here, which means, by tradition, many of us have our stars assembled and displayed. In the spirit of the season and fostering our Moravian unity, we’d like you to send us a picture of how you have your Moravian star displayed. If you feel led, include a description of what Advent/Christmas means to you as a Moravian Christian. This annual campaign has become one of the BCM’s traditions as a Moravian agency. We hope that it will continue to evolve and provide us new ways of exploring and promoting Moravian identity!

How to Submit:

Post your star image on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #MoravianStar2017 and tag @MoravianBCM. Don’t forget to include your optional description of what Christmas means to you as a Moravian Christian! If you prefer to keep your name and location private, email your submission to Andrew@MoravianBCM.org. You may also direct/private message your pictures to us on the listed social media platforms (we are MoravianBCM on all three.)

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Some guidelines on image(s) you submit:

  • The image(s) must be yours and created by you, or you must have permission to submit the image(s)
    • If the latter, please email us the contributor’s name and contact information
  • The image(s) should, preferably, have been created this year
  • The image(s) should have the hashtag in its caption or shared on a post with the hashtag
    • Unless one of our staff members is friends with you on social media, your image(s) need to be posted publicly for us to see it/them (direct message or email if you aren’t comfortable with posting publicly)
  • The image(s) must be taken on your own property, in a public space, or on property you have permission to take photos on
  • You may include people in your images, but please try to make subjects in the photo aware that you intend to submit the image to a social media campaign
    • If there are minors in the image, please request permission from their parent(s)/guardian(s) before submitting
  • It doesn’t have to be a traditional star! It can be:
    • An ornament
    • Your drawing(s) or other original art
    • Paper stars
    • And more!
Please see more on this at the end of this post (under Privacy and Image Permissions).


Deadline: 

Please submit by January 6, 2018. 


What do we plan to do with this? 

We will simply share some of our favorite Advent star pictures submitted by you. If we make a final product, like #MoravianStar2015’s photo mosaic, then participants, our social media followers, and e-newsletter subscribers will be the first to know!


Please read the below information carefully. 

NOTE ON PRIVACY: 

If you post your image to social media and prefer to keep your location private, please do so by not tagging a location when you post your image. If you prefer to keep both your name and/or username as well as location private, submit your image via email (Andrew@MoravianBCM.org) or direct/private message us on one of the listed social media platforms. Please expressly tell us we are not permitted to use your name or location by saying you want your submission to remain anonymous

IMAGE PERMISSIONS:
By submitting, you give us permission to repost your submitted image, your description, and name/general location (if not expressly denied) on all digital platforms. You also agree to let us reuse the images/descriptions/name/general location (the last two only if given) for future purposes, both digitally and in print for non-commercial purposes. The original submitted photo’s copyright still belongs to the original photographer. Your submission must be your own creation or submitted with the original creator’s permission and not violate others’ copyright or expectation of privacy. The Moravian BCM will seek formal permission from creators before printing images on a commercial product.

 

Submission guidelines updated 12/20/2017

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