Our Invitation to the Manger

BCM Spotlight Banner

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.


Requests for republishing, click here
Want to volunteer to write for us? Click here 


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Advertisements

Wait! It’s Not Christmas Yet

BCM Spotlight Banner

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


Requests for republishing, click here
Want to volunteer to write for us? Click here 


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Beth’s Picks: New Resources for the Advent Season

Spotlight graphic

BY BETH HAYES | 

New Resources for the Advent Season

Pexels photo - Christiams candle

When I worked in a church as an educator, it was hard to think ahead for Advent planning. I would go in stores and hate to see things decorated for the Advent and Christmas season in September. But the truth is… I’ve had to get rid of this thought as a resource person. It is important to think far enough ahead and get the resources out so that people can plan and utilize the resources for the best planning efforts in their congregations.

Advent Resources

Thus, the countdown to Advent and Christmas begins in the Board of Cooperative Ministries Resource Center. In the image above we have our Advent books on display and are taking reservations from people wanting to use a particular resource during Advent. The Resource Center not only loans the books out to congregations to use but will purchase them for churches at the best price possible. Be sure to come in and see our countdown to the Advent season with some pretty awesome new resources.

God With Us cover

God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas. Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe. Paraclete Press. 2015

This provides a perfect way to slow down and reconnect with the traditions that illuminate the meaning of Christmas and the Incarnation. It offers a tapestry of reflection, Scripture, prayer, and history. We all need to pause and understand the spiritual richness of the season.

The Redemption of Scrooge. Matt Rawle. Abingdon Press. 2016

This study is based on the book by Charles Dickens. It explores the world of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim , and the Cratchits with an eye to Christian faith. Along the way you will meet the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come and learn about living with and for others in a world blessed by Jesus. There is a four week DVD study with leader guide and a youth study. This particular author has taken several novels and worked with them from a faith perspective in a very creative way. It is sure to intrigue you.

Underdogs and Outsiders cover

Underdogs and Outsiders: A Bible Study on the Untold Stories of Advent. Tom Fuerst. Abingdon Press. 2016

The Gospel of Matthew names five women in the family tree of Jesus: Tamar, a forgotten daughter-in-law and widow; Rahab, a prostitute, Ruth, a foreigner: the wife of Uriah, an adulteress; and of course Mary, a young virgin. This study explores the stories of each of these five women, showing how they all played a pivotal role in God’s purposes. You will uncover new dimensions of the story of God’s people and how that story comes into focus in the hope for the Messiah. Each chapter offers questions for reflection and discussion, a brief prayer, and a focus for the week. We hear so many familiar Advent passages, so it is refreshing to look at some of the untold stories.

Why This Jubilee? Advent Reflections on Songs of the Season. James Howell. Upper Room. 2015

In this book of 24 reflections, Howell invites us to revisit familiar songs of the season, even some secular ones, and contemplate certain phrases and their meaning for us. It includes a leaders guide. What a wonderful resource in many settings but I can really see it as a short Bible Study for choir members who sometimes miss out on Sunday School and spiritual enrichment times.

 


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

Beth Hayes is the Director of Congregational Ministries and Resources, Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM). Below, Beth appears with her sister, aunt, and cousin along with the family Bible.  

Looking at a Bible

#MoravianStar2015 Photo Mosaic

#MoravianStar2015 mosaic

Hopefully this will brighten up a cold Friday night for ya! Here’s the Moravian star photo mosaic!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to our #MoravianStar2015 social campaign. We had a blast seeing all your Advent stars. Grab a blanket and see if you can find your photo in the mosaic! Nearly all of the submissions are featured in the graphic.

#MoravianStar2015

Moravian Star

Moravians! Advent is now upon us, 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.

How to Submit:

Post your star image on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #MoravianStar2015 and tag @MoravianBCM (Moravian Board of Cooperative Ministries (BCM) on Facebook.) Don’t forget to include your 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 acox@mcsp.org. You may also direct/private message your pictures to us on the listed social media platforms (we are MoravianBCM on all three.)

Deadline: 

Please submit by December 24, 2015. 


What do we plan to do with this? 

Apart from sharing your stunning Moravian star pictures we hope to create a photo mosaic from all of the images. See examples here. The mosaic will represent a single graphical display of our Moravian unity this Advent season! At some point in the future, possibly next year just prior to Advent season, we may offer the mosaic prints for sale to raise money for one of our regional ministries.

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 (acox@mcsp.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 and commercial purposes. For future uses of submitted images, we reserve the right to refrain from crediting photos should we deem it appropriate. The original submitted photo still belongs to the original photographer.

Submission details updated on Monday, December 14, 2015.

Please email acox@mcsp.org if you have any issues or questions!

How to Have a Visitor-Friendly Christmas

candlesset1
Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year!” And also one of the busiest times. In all the excitement, hub-bub, and frenzy, it’s easy to forget that Christmas is also a time when we Moravians have the unique opportunity to welcome many, many visitors into our faith communities. Our lovefeasts and candle services attract a LOT of guests, whether adult children of our members, friends, or neighbors looking to deepen their Christmas experience. How do we welcome them in the midst of our own hustle and bustle?

Here are a few ways that we as a church might create an even more positive, renewing, and memorable experience for our Christmas visitors:

Tips for a Visitor-Friendly Christmas:

  • The first thing most local visitors will do is “google” your church. Make sure your website is up-to-date and that lovefeast (or other special service) times are clearly visible on the home page. And by the way, is your street address (or a directions link) on the home page? It should be. Don’t assume everyone knows where you are.
  • Likewise, be sure your service times and address information are updated on ALL your social media – Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. A good way to find out what people will see is to “google” your church’s name. What are the first five links that pop up? Do you control them? If so, they should be updated.
  • Send lovefeast information and times to local newspapers and even small local community publications – be sure to include what a lovefeast is. . . and who Moravians are. Offer to write a special article! Need an updated resource for this? The Moravian Church in North America (http://www.moravian.org/) has great information about the Moravian lovefeast, the beeswax candle, and the star, along with good information on what Moravians believe.
  • Go beyond the newspaper and your sign. Consider creating posters to display around town, at the local library, grocery store, or community center. Make postcards that your members can give to friends and family telling them about these special services. Create events in Facebook that your members can “share” with their friends.
  • What do first-time visitors need to know about attending a lovefeast before they arrive? What can they expect? A lovefeast is unlike most worship services. Provide any unique information on your website (this might include: come 1/2 hour early to find parking or hear the band prelude, how lovefeast is served and what is served – i.e. passing bun/coffee, a nursery is provided OR children are welcome, etc.) so that guests can come feeling prepared for worship.
  • Prepare for newcomers once they’ve arrived. What information might you need to include before or during the service to make it more meaningful for those new to the experience? Is there a blurb you could include in the bulletin that describes the origin and meaning of the lovefeast? Are there printed materials about your church, its ministries, and upcoming events easily available for guests?
  • How helpful and friendly are your people and your space? Do you have greeters lined up for special services? welcome[1]1Do you offer to escort visitors to the nursery or restrooms? Is your church signage clear? Does it direct newcomers to your nursery or restrooms? Is the front door open? Are all the doors unlocked or is there clear signage outside directing people to the unlocked doors? Is parking readily available for visitors?
  • Update your ode (order of worship). Are nearly all the hymns familiar? One or two “uniquely Moravian” carols will be great for us, but remember very few visitors will know these songs. Can you explain a little bit about them to the audience? What kind of language are you using in your carols? Is it from this century? Do you really need to include six verses?
  • Put the entire service in your ode. Include instructions about sitting and standing, hymn lyrics, and more. Don’t make guests have to navigate the ode AND the hymnal AND the Bible AND the lovefeast AND the candle service. How can you simplify worship so your guests may simply experience the joy of the season without worrying about logistics?
  • Try to avoid “church-y” language, acronyms or jargon. Does the offering benefit Sunnyside? What’s that? or BWM? What does that stand for? Do you talk about the “narthex,” the “ode,” and other things that might not be clear to your guests?
  • Above all, let your light shine! Christmas is a joyful time . . . a time when we celebrate that most amazing of gifts…our Lord Jesus Christ. Let the love of Christ shine through you and your congregation this Christmas. 

unwelcomeMany of the tips above are adapted from Unwelcome: 50 Ways Churches Drive Away First-Time Visitors by Jonathan Malm. Ask us about this book! It is available to borrow free of charge from the Resource Center.

-Ruth Cole Burcaw is a member of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. She is also the Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries for the Moravian Church, Southern Province.