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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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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#MoravianStar2017 Social Media Campaign

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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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Sacred Music: Sing On

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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.


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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

Beth’s Picks: New Resources for the Advent Season

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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.