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

Sacred Music: Sing On

BCM Spotlight Banner

BY LYDIAN AVERITT |

Painting of George Fredick Handel

Thomas Hudson (English, 1701-1749). “Georg Friedrich Händel,” 1741. Oil painting. | Public domain image

It’s the most performed piece of classical music in the world: George Frederick Handel’s famous oratorio Messiah. Almost a Cliff’s Notes of the Bible, the piece tells the story, in orchestral and vocal form, of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection. Composed in 1741 and almost immediately a hit, the piece has never gone out of style: in 2010, according to the web site Classical Net, there were enough productions of Messiah worldwide to hold two a day, nearly every day of the year.  That’s more than twice as many as the next-closest competitor, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.

Although Handel didn’t envision Messiah as a Christmas work–he actually wrote it for Easter–most of these performances will be compressed into this very season: the weeks between the November 1 and December 25.

I sang the piece recently in the Mozart Club’s community chorus in Winston-Salem, NC at the urging of my mother, a 30-year veteran of the chorus. “I’m telling you,” she said, matter-of-factly. “It’s glorious.”

The chorus from the Mozart Club’s 2010 presentation of the Messiah in Winston-Salem | Photo by Phil Averitt

As mothers often are, mine was right: the experience was transformative. The beauty of the music. The power of the orchestra.  The sheer emotion of being in the center of a swirling vortex of sound, retelling, as conductor James Allbritten described it, “the greatest story ever told.”    

Naturally, I recruited my own then-19-year-old daughter to join us the next year, and the piece hooked her as well. So much so that, when I asked for her thoughts, she replied with the exaggerated patience that only a teenage girl can muster: “Mom. You have no idea how much I love to do this.”

And she wasn’t alone; the members of the chorus were as diverse as a group could be, with black people, white people, men and women, students, parents, grandparents. All could agree on the joy of being a part of the stirring performance–the club’s 80th, no less.

At this time of year, as musicians everywhere start their seasonal rehearsals, the question arises: What is it about the Messiah, or about spiritual music in general, that has such power to move us and draw us back, a cross-section of humanity, again and again? Is it its familiarity? Is it the tradition?

The First Moravian, Greensboro flute trio, playing Christmas carols at the church’s Candle Tea. The author, Lydian, is in the middle; her daughter Caroline is on the right; the flute player on left is Cleo Dimmick | Photo by Phil Averitt

According to the Rev. Will Eads, a clinician with CareNet Counseling, a community-based care organization affiliated with Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, it’s a matter of a term called “hymnody.”

Literally meaning “the collective hymns of a specific religion, place or period,” hymnody more broadly refers to the shared musical experiences of a community of people, singing commonly known, ecclesiastically-based music.  Amazing Grace. Be Thou My Vision. Silent Night. Even the Messiah’s famous Hallelujah chorus.

“Sacred music is transcendent as far as time. It resonates with us, and it’s relevant to us today,” Eads says. “Many people can relate, and have related, to this music in the same way, and have done so for a long time. That’s what makes the difference.”

Sacred music is not the only music that can draw people together as a community. Rock, jazz, pop, and country songs can all do it. The difference, according to Eads, is that rock or jazz or country songs are usually based on emotion, and they speak to one individual, or to a group of people that can identify with the emotion that the songwriter is conveying.

“The composer has said, ‘How do I personally feel today?’ and whatever one group of people may be going through enables them to relate to the song equally emotionally,” Eads says.

For a piece to have hymnody, it has to affect us in, literally, more ways than one.

Photo by David Beale on Unsplash

“There’s a collective consciousness that sets hymns and pieces of sacred music apart. They are based on group knowledge; they are emotionally transcendent. They have an ecclesiastical embodiment. And they are able to reach most of us psychologically, wherever we are. They are bio-psycho-socio-spiritual. They speak to us on all four levels.

“Sacred music is almost sacramental. It’s is a tangible, physical way to connect to the divine.”

Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf got it. The composer of more than 2,000 hymns, the Moravian church leader revived and extended the hymnody tradition in his assembly of the first provincial Moravian hymnal, published in German in 1735.1 His philosophy in organizing that hymnal is still stated in the first pages of the current one: “The hymnal is a kind of response to the Bible, an echo and an extension thereof. In the Bible, one perceives how the Lord communicates with people; in the hymnal, how people communicate with the Lord.”

And, George Frederick Handel got it. According to legend, he wrote the music for the slightly more-than 3-hour Messiah in just 24 days, working steadily under divine inspiration. “I did think I did see the whole heaven before me, and the great God himself,” Handel is said to have marveled, at the end of his writing marathon. “Whether I was in my body, or out of my body, I know not. God knows.”2

As instruments tune, choirs assemble and the season to sing out gets under way, people everywhere can know again the power of a shared, sacred musical experience, whether or not they are Moravian–“The singin’-est people I’ve ever met,” declared a friend after attending a lovefeast for the first time.

“Hymnody is the rock in the river,” Eads says. “As we feel lost and adrift, we can reach out and grab it and feel connected to something larger than we are. “

For that, we can all sing, “Hallelujah!”


 

  1. Farrell, Michael. Blake and the Moravians. Palgrave MacMillan, 2014.
  2. Schonberg, Harold. The Lives of the Great Composers. W.W. Norton and Company, 1997.

 


Photo via Lydian Averitt

Lydian Bernhardt Averitt is a freelance writer and editor, and is the coordinator of the family financial planning certificate program at North Carolina A&T State University. She is an amateur musician and a lifelong Moravian who attends First Moravian Church in Greensboro, NC. Contact her at Lydian@triad.rr.com.


Requests for Republishing:

Want to republish this post? Most of our writers are volunteers who retain the copyright of their text. Reach out to the author, or we can put them in touch with you. See email address for the Moravian BCM below.

Images used in our blog posts are a mix of the BCM’s images, Creative Commons images, public domain images, or other images the Moravian BCM has permission to use. Some images you may need additional permission to include in your republishing. Where credits have been noted, we ask that you credit image creators the same way we have. Questions? Email us!


Follow the Moravian BCM on Social Media: 

FacebookInstagramTwitter

BCM@MCSP.org | MoravianBCM.org

Truth is the Way

DSC02626Around 500 Moravians and guests from around the province gathered together on Sunday, July 19, at Home Moravian Church, for a service of Word and Sacrament in commemoration of the Legacy of John Hus. Another 100 people joined us through the live internet feed. Approximately $1500 was raised to support the BCM’s multicultural translation project. We give thanks for this meaningful service of worship and time shared together.

MR2_2308
Truth Prevails 

I searched for the truth from all of the people who passed me by.

I looked through the Scriptures to follow your footsteps until I die.

I served as a pastor at Bethlehem Chapel to spread your light.

I challenged corruption and spoke up for what was right.

Though they take my life away

I will speak the truth each day.

Jesus is truth;

Truth is the way.DSC02614

I stand in the Council and listen to all that they have to say –

The harsh accusations and fierce allegations that come my way.

But I must be faithful and keep my convictions, I cannot fail,

For though they stop me I know God’s truth will prevail.

Though they take my life away

I will speak the truth each day.

Jesus is truth;

Truth is the way.DSC02716

Lord I wonder in all that is and all of time,

Will faith and love and hope be known to humankind?

Will the mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers ever know –

Under the violence and greed the truth will still grow?

Though they take my life away

I will speak the truth each day.

Jesus is truth;

Truth is the way.

DSC02684

DSC02663

MR2_2351Jesus is truth:

The way.

My way.

Our way.

Written by Senior High Campers during Senior High Camp – July 11-18, 2015
In tribute to John Hus
Music by Rick Sides and Jim Newsom, Jr.
Pictures by: Mike Reiss

Hail to the Lord’s Annointed

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Our third hymn for reflection this morning was written by James Montgomery. James Montgomery. Born November 4, 1771 in Scotland. The son of Irish parents. Father, a Moravian pastor. When his father and mother heard the Savior’s call to share his love among the enslaved Africans in the West Indies, they placed their son in the care of the Moravian school in Fulneck, England. His parents never returned. When James Montgomery was 12 years old, his mother and his father died suddenly on Island of Tobago.

James Montgomery floundered through the adolescent years that followed. He was a very creative student with a passion for poetry, but his overall scholastic record was quite dismal. From the school in Fulneck, he was sent to serve as an apprentice in a bakery. James Montgomery ran away from this work and the Moravians at the age of fifteen. In the following years, he bounced from job to job, often unemployed and sometimes homeless for weeks at a time.

Somewhere along the way James Montgomery formed a strong sense of what was just and what was fair. Maybe it had something to do with being a young Irishman under the oppressive rule of the English crown. Or maybe it had something to do with his parents, who gave up their lives for men and women held captive by the evil of slavery. Or perhaps it had something to do with the revolutionary spirit in France blowing across the English Channel.

21a-Hail_To_The_Lords_AnointedJames Montgomery found his vocation at the age of 23. He began work as an editor and later became owner of a radical newspaper in Sheffield, England. He was thrown in jail for printing a poem celebrating the Storming of the Bastille. James Montgomery was jailed a second time for reporting the police brutality used to suppress a local riot. With each release from prison, he picked up his pen to serve once again as a leading social critic of his day. James Montgomery became a popular voice in the English abolitionist movement. He emerged as one of the most passionate critics of dehumanizing child labor. He was endeared by the masses for his advocacy of the poor and the defenseless. And as he matured as a editor, a poet, and great hymn writer, the pen of James Montgomery drew its ink from his great understanding of the life and mission of the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Continue reading

Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Hymn 276, Moravian Book of Worship

church with snow at nightIt was the winter of 1915.  Plans were underway for the annual Christmas Service at Harvard Divinity School.  One of the preparations for this service was a hymn-writing contest.  Students were invited to write a Christmas hymn and, from those submitted,  one would be chosen to be sung at the Christmas Service.

For a year now, war had raged in Europe.  As the dark clouds of this conflict hung over the earth, my dad, who, after graduating from Moravian Theological Seminary, was spending a year at Harvard on a scholarship, wrote a hymn in response to the invitation.  His hymn was about the darkness that hung over Judah and was shattered by the glorious light that came with the birth of Christ and the gifts of peace and good will as proclaimed by the angels.  It was this hymn, Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay, that was chosen to be sung at that year’s service.

Continue reading

People In Darkness Are Looking for Light

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Lovefeast CandleI was born in Winston-Salem and grew up Moravian, but from 1977 till 2007 I lived mostly outside Moravian areas, so I didn’t really keep up with changes in the Moravian church.

But I used to come back to Winston a few times a year for services; and so it was that one Sunday in 1995, I slid into a pew at Home Church next to my friend Alan Johanssen.  And as he handed me a hymnal—a blue one—he turned to his sister and said, “Wait till Ginny sees this.

My friends know that I am a traditionalist.  Change does not come easily to me.  And I reacted to the blue hymnal exactly as Alan thought I would.

Continue reading