On this second Sunday of Advent we remember the gift of Peace we have with and in Christ.
Peace is part of the mystery of Christmas. And Advent is the season we prepare our hearts to welcome the mystery of Christmas.
We are preparing our hearts for the Prince of Peace.
A baby born to Mary and Joseph who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7).
There is a way many of us teach the mystery of Christmas to children using Godly Play. And it is told this way:
The King who was coming is still coming. This is full of mystery. That is why this time of Advent is so important. Sometimes people can walk right through a mystery and not even know it is there. People become busy.
Maybe they don’t know how to prepare for the mystery of Christmas. Or, maybe they just forgot.
The Church learned a long time ago that people need a way to get ready to enter or even come close to a mystery like Christmas. Christmas is such a great Mystery that it takes four weeks to get ready.
During this time, we are all on the way to Bethlehem. We are all making the journey. We are all getting ready to enter the Mystery of Christmas, to make the journey that was not just back then but is also now.
And so, this morning, on the second Sunday of Advent, we light the candle of hope and the candle of peace.
Peace is part of the mystery of Christmas. It is a gift that we must be prepared for and must work for.
When I think about the gift of peace, particularly in the context of Advent and Christmas, I immediately think of St. Francis of Assisi.
St. Francis is probably one of the best known—and best loved saints in the Christian tradition.
There is a prayer, attributed to St. Francis, in our Book of Common Prayer. Prayer no. 62:
“Lord Make me an Instrument of Your Peace,
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon…where there is despair, hope; where there is sadness, joy.”
St. Francis, a man born of means and prestige and who enjoyed a reckless and wild youth as well as a prominent military career—put down his sword and renounced his family’s wealth in order to follow the way of peace, the way of Christ.
The spirituality and theology of St. Francis is rooted in the Incarnation of Christ. Emmanuel. God with Us. The word made flesh. The baby Jesus born of Mary and Joseph: Fully Human and Fully Divine. The Prince of Peace.
In many ways, St. Francis is an Advent saint. One who helps us prepare to enter the mystery of Christmas.
Consider the manger scene that so many of us know by heart and display during Advent and through the Christmas season. Barnyard animals, hay, Mary and Joseph with the shepherds and the wisemen all gazing in awe at the sweet baby Jesus—sleeping away in the manger.
This scene captures the incarnation of God as a newborn baby. Anyone who knows the work of caring for a newborn also immediately knows the peace Mary and Joseph must be feeling as they gaze at their sleeping baby.
When we see a creche, we immediately know the story that is being told. The birth of Jesus.
But we haven’t always had the creche with us to help prepare for the mystery of Christmas.
Francis loved Jesus—the fleshy, human, God-Among-Us-Born as an Infant-Jesus and it is this love that inspired the first manger scene on a Christmas Eve in 1223.
As Francis prepared to celebrate Christmas Eve mass in a small mountain side village,
he longed to help people enter the mystery of Christmas in a new way--to make the mystery of Christmas—of Emmanuel—of God with Us—come alive for those who came to Christmas Eve mass.
The love Francis had for the Baby Jesus, the tender incarnation of God, gave birth to the manger scene.
With permission from the Pope (so as to be taken seriously and not appear to be making fun of the Nativity story), Francis moved the mass outside, gathered animals nearby, oxen and sheep, added hay, and laid an infant child in the manger so that the people of God “could gain a fresh sense of wonder about the mystery of Christmas.”
The creche helps us prepare to enter the mystery of the incarnation.
Francis knew instinctively that seeing a living newborn baby in the manger would transcend any words used to tell of the birth of Jesus. And eight-hundred years later the symbol of the creche remains one of the most popular ways we prepare to enter the mystery of Christmas.
Peace is a gift from God through Christ that we must prepare our hearts to receive—so that we might become instruments of God’s peace.
“Lord, Make me an Instrument of your Peace.”
And I wonder, what does preparing our hearts for peace look like here, today, at the Church of the Transfiguration? I believe it looks like many things:
The weaving of plastic bags into sleeping mats for those who have nowhere to lay their head at night. A modern-day manger: the incarnation of Christ in those experiencing homelessness.
What does peacemaking look like here, today at Transfiguration?
Peace looks like a crazy chile farm. Restoring and caring for God’s creation in the planting of native crops. Restoring relationship with Indigenous communities whose water supply has been diverted and diminished over many decades.
Preparing and working for the gift of peace at Transfiguration looks like the care and keeping of this sacred worship space by our altar guild and volunteers and Junior Warden—because it is here that pray with one another: “Forgive Us, Help Us, make us instruments of your peace.” And it here that we offer one another—and receive from one another—a sign of Christ’s peace.
Peace sounds like our choir who faithfully lift-up their voices on Sunday mornings to help us praise God in song.
I invite all of us to reflect on where and how we see the work of peace around us.
There are many, many incarnations of the peace of Christ at work here in this community. Not just these that I’ve named.
May we continue to prepare our hearts for Emmanuel, God with us, by working for Christ’s peace in our relationships with one another, in our communities and in our world. “Lord, make us an instrument of your peace.” We ask this in the name of the baby born in Bethlehem, Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Anne K. Ellsworth
December 5, 2021
Advent 2, Year C
Church of the Transfiguration, Mesa
 Godly Play, Jerome Berryman Advent 1
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings