Peace. We desire peace among nations and ethnic groups, but we also seek other forms of peace—from conflict in our family, from disagreements over theology and worship, from the endless “to do” list, from the children bickering in the back seat, from the war within ourselves.

Peace in the future requires effort now. Christmas offers many of us a vacation, but we have to complete projects before we leave town. We must purchase and wrap gifts and pack suitcases and cars. Getting to rest requires some work first.

In worship, Advent comes before our celebration of Christ’s birth. While preparing for Christmas, we look forward to the ultimate peace and celebration that will come with Christ’s return. Yet if we allow ourselves to calm down in the presence of God, we’ll find God doing the work of preparation this Advent.

Our peace comes in more fully celebrating Christ’s presence as well as preparing for his earthly return. We mark the beginning of a new liturgical year in our worship and soon a new calendar year in our lives. We often recognize the coming of a new year by making resolutions that impact our physical lives, but perhaps there is a spiritual new year’s to be celebrated as well. Though the debts are great, Zephaniah says, “The Lord has taken away the judgments against you.” These scriptures remind me to allow Christ to once again transform my life, even if that looks like beginning again completely. This time of celebration of the Christ child, of the Immanuel with us, and of expectation illuminates the continuous, refining nature of salvation.

Let’s begin again, living in the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness. I pray that we will allow this time of Advent to make us more aware of Christ’s peace, refreshing our spirits and our hope for Christ’s return. May Christ’s presence then be more visible to those around us, spreading the hope of Christmas, Easter, and Advent.

Sarah Holik is children’s minister at First Baptist Church, Fitzgerald, Georgia.