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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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

#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!

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.

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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.

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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

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. 

A little child shall lead them…

In celebration of the upcoming August 17 Children’s Festival: Day of Prayer & Covenanting, we share with you an article that appeared in a past issue of The Moravian Magazine:

While sitting at the kitchen table, my friend Alicia and I began to talk about our children, as moms do. She reminded me, “When children are given responsibility they step up to the plate. It gives them a sense of worthiness, and a deep sense of satisfaction and joy…” When you think about it our Moravian heritage sets a strong precedent for “expecting” children to serve. Our own children share a rich inheritance of spiritual strength and stamina handed down to them from their counterparts of the 1700s. Those children were the sisters and brothers who became the foremothers and forefathers of today’s young believers. Precisely because the early Moravians did not underestimate the power or the ways the Holy Spirit might just choose a young eleven-year old girl named Susanna Kuhnel, whose mother had recently died:

“The joyful departure of her mother made so deep an impression upon this girl that she spent three whole days, and especially the forepart of the last night, till one o’clock in the morning in weeping and prayer, at which hour she broke out into indescribable joy, called her father who slept in the adjoining room, and who had, unknown to her, heard all that had passed, and [she] cried out, “Now Father, I am a child of God, and I know also how my mother felt and still feels.”

While this infant preacher of righteousness, by showing forth the praises of Him who had called her out of darkness to His marvelous light, was winning the hearts of the children dwelling in Herrnhut, one after the other, for our Saviour, the Friend of Children was pleased to lay a special blessing on the testimony of the above mentioned.

a universal flame of love towards our Saviour seemed to be kindled in the hearts of these children, and all of them spent the whole night in prayer…

…it was impossible to listen to their infant supplications without being deeply moved and affected.”

(from the e-Books of the Moravian Archives in Winston-Salem, NC, 1895 edition of The Memorial Days of the Renewed Church of the Brethren) 

In The History of the Moravian Church, by J. Taylor Hamilton and Kenneth G. Hamilton, we see how the writers understood the possibility that children might actually possess an “inner life”–an intimate friendship with Christ Jesus. They also linked the children’s inner closeness to Jesus with the import of the leaders’ (especially Zinzendorf’s) “keen interest” in their children’s spiritual development. These “grown-ups” did not look down upon any child, but expected him or her to not only be used by the Spirit of the Lord, but also to perhaps even lead adults! The Moravian Covenant for Christian Living exhorts us to remember our children are the “property of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 1:9),  not ours to possess, but only to nurture.

“Since the orphanage school stood next door to the Kuhnel home, Susanna had frequent opportunity to give testimony to others her age. A revival followed among the children–observed annually thereafter as a festival on August 17…This whole experience can be attributed in no small degree to the keen interest taken in the spiritual development of children by the leaders in Herrnhut, Zinzendorf, in chief. These men and women did not regard the inner life of the young with that condescension too often shown by adults. They held that in all things the spirit of the Lord could use a little child to lead older persons.”

When I was new to the Moravian church, Brother Ofreciano Julias commended this memorial day of August 17th to me. He told me that in Nicaragua this annual festival day is a big celebration where they hold not only lovefeasts, but also parades. He wished that all the Moravian children could know about and be spiritually formed by this special day of awakening among the children in Herrnhut. While we were trying to decide how to lead the children in our province to respond to the catastrophic destruction of homes and churches by a hurricane, it was the youth of the Nicaraguan province who had already penned a letter to us. From the chairman of Moravian Youth Ministry in Nicaragua Andrew Leyman we read:

“Now the Moravian Youth in the province of Nicaragua has organized a team to give a response with the context and reality of our people to encourage and join in solidarity with them in the midst of pain. Our youth team with the only aim of “New Strengths” united in one heart, one spirit, and one hope to go in the communities in order to bring back hope and faith in the people’s lives.”

Yes, the confident youth requested that we pray for them and join them in this “Love Pilgrim[age]” to the coast of Nicaragua. You see they have been spiritually formed by the story and festival of Susanna and her friends every year of their lives on August 17th. So it’s no surprise when the children of Nicaragua have such a strong sense of God’s Spirit and an innate friendship with Christ Jesus. When we older pilgrims expect children to be led by the Spirit, they are! Oh, by the way, what was one of the first things our Nicaraguan sisters and brothers requested? Emergency Hymnals. As my colleague David Guthrie said, ” I guess we Moravians have sung through a few storms.”

The Rev. Lisa Mullin, Director of Christian Education, Kernersville Moravian Church

Rev. Lisa Mullin