When I was a kid, rosettes were my favorite cookie to make. Mom made them especially at Christmastime. It’s been more years than I can count since I made them, but I can still recall the fascination they always held for me. Mom heated oil in a frying pan and mixed up the thin, sweet batter; then she dipped the rosette mold (a flower-shaped piece of iron on a long handle) into the batter to coat its lower half and quickly inserted the mold–batter and all–into the oil. The hot oil immediately fried the batter in the shape of the mold, allowing Mom to lift the mold entirely out of the flower-shaped cookie and leave it to cook, floating in the hot oil until it was a beautiful golden-brown. We would lift the cookies out onto a stack of paper towels in order to remove the ecxess grease before dusting them with powdered sugar. They were the prettiest and most delicate cookies I had ever seen. I loved them!

Like rosettes, peace seems brittle. Sweet, beautiful, fascinating, but delicate. Breathe on it and it is gone like the miniature snowflake on your sleeve. Try to preserve it and it becomes rancid like old french fries (or old resettes, for that matter). So God’s gift that Christmas night of peace on earth seems not only rather unrealistic, but also a bit impractical. Yet it is definitely not a white-elephant gift. Everyone wants it.

One of the most famous Christmas songs of all time is the most peaceful: “Silent Night” by Joseph Mohr, given its perfect musical setting by Franz Gruber. The song’s story goes that it was composed and performed upon the grand occasion of the church’s organ being out of commission. Now, anyone familiar with Christmas programs and Christmas services knows how stressful losing the church’s main instrument can be–how stressful any glitch can be! Yet from that rather inconvenient situation has come a song capturing the peace of Christmas like no other song does. Listen:

Silent night! holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child,
Holy Infant, so tender and mild–
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia–
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night! holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace–
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.

The songs is so gentle, lulling us to restful contemplation. But as I ponder that first Christmas, as I ponder the Christmas story, I see that not everything was still, not everything was hushed. The city being so crowded, how could it be still and at peace? Tensions must have been higher than normal. How could Joseph’s mind not have been churning with the problem of where in the world they would live until the census was over? Childbirth being so full of anguish and pain, how could Mary have been silent? A sky full of angels, how could it have been peaceful? How could one’s heart not have beat wildly after being surprised in such a manner as the shepherds were? Silent night? Did I miss what Mohr and Gruber saw?

“All is calm, all is bright/ Round yon virgin mother and Child.” I remember walking into my mother’s hospital room shortly after my sister was born. I had skipped school and spent all morning in the waiting room of the hospital until finally Dad came to get me: my sister had been born. There was a stillness, a wonder to that hospital room when I entered it (almost on tiptoe). The pain was over, Mom was exhausted but happy. And she moved gently as she let me see my sister for the first time and then allowed me to hold her. In fact, each time I visited them in the hospital a peacefulness pervaded the room, a peacefulness because all was well . . . and because the baby might be sleeping. All was calm and bright. How could it have been otherwise for that tiny baby and his exhausted mother that night? As the new mother showed her newborn infant to his wondering father and later to the curious shepherds, it could not have been other than peaceful–the peace of happy and successful exhaustion, the peace of proud mother-hood, the peace of infancy.

“Shepherds quake at the sight;/ Glories stream from heaven afar,/ Heav’nly hosts sing aleluia.” What a concert that must have been! I’ve been to good concerts, and I have also been on various stages myself a time or two. While applause is nice to receive, a good performer soon learns to crave silence from his audience, and not just any silence. An attentive silence is so concentrated that a performer can feel the audience frozen in time and place, lost in the story he is weaving. I have heard that silence from audiences, and I have felt that expectant stillness myself. I, too, have had my times of sitting silent after the house lights come back on, awed and overwhelmed by the power of the performance I have just seen or heard, pondering the thoughts it has placed in my grasp. Picture the hillside after the heavenly curtain has fallen again and the aerial show is over: wouldn’t you have sat in silence, not wanting to break the wonderful stillness of the moment?

But those moments seem so fragile. The stillness must be broken eventually: the shepherds have to speak, have to move, have to go check out this amazing news the angels gave them; the baby Jesus, like other babies the world over, will cry for the various reasons babies cry. The peace can’t last. Was God’s gift of peace to the world as insubstantial as the rosettes we used to make at Christmas time–beautiful to look at but certainly not known for longevity?

“Love’s pure light/ Radiant beams from Thy holy face/ With the dawn of redeeming grace.” Perhaps beyond the ordinary stillnesses, a different kind of peace was embedded in that night, a peace more beautiful, more realistic, more substantial, more satisfying than those natural yet fragile ones described in the first two stanzas; a peace I have glimpsed like a hummingbird out my window; a peace I have tasted but not grasped; a peace I want more of. It’s the peace that comes from God Himself, from seeing His face and knowing that everything is as it should be between us.

God’s Word, in Philippians 4:7, aptly dubs it the peace “which passeth all understanding.” I heard it described at a New Year service in which people were given the opportunity to give testimonies of how God had helped them through the year. One couple spoke of living life after a devastating house fire. The wife spoke of the first night after the fire and of the peace inside which, in the face of loss and devastation, whispered to her, “Let’s see what God is going to do with this.” And I recognized something about this incomprehensible peace, something I have been learning but having trouble putting into words: this peace comes with a built-in sense of adventure! Somehow it can look trouble in the face and see it as a ride at an amusement park. This peace is not a fragile flower; it’s tough as rope. It makes absolutely no sense at all as it grins in the face of adversity. No, it’s not a bitter grimace nor a starry-eyed smile. It’s a grin, an infectious grin that’s like a rainbow through the tears. And it enables the possessor to rest–to “sleep in heavenly peace,” something that seems impossible at first.

So, how does one get it? And how does one keep it? Well, to answer the second question, we don’t keep it–it keeps us. Philippians 4:7 goes on to promise that it will “keep [or guard] our hearts and minds.” It’s an active, strong peace, stronger than we are. How do we get it? That one is just as easy and yet infinitely more difficult to answer. We get it from God. We get it, Philippians tells us, by pouring out our hearts to Him, letting Him have all the things that we are worried over or concerned by or angry about or longing for. John 13-15 says that as we do this we must allow Christ’s words to become part of us, expecting that He will answer those longings. That part isn’t so easy. In fact, it seems almost an impossibility that we will ever have enough of His words within us to purchase His gift of peace. Bother! So much for that thought, nice though it was.

That’s the difficulty: peace involves trust. And trust comes from love. I have been re-reading The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom. And the marvel to me is that my favorite chapter, the chapter that moves me most, is the one about her time in a German extermination camp. As she and her sister lived through those days of hell on earth, their confidence in the love of God shines, beams out in defiance of all horror, radiates in the face of evil itself. There’s a peace on those pages that I want in my life. A beautiful, yet unbreakable peace.

It comes from knowing God, from knowing His love. Not from loving Him–oh, no! How many people have we loved and yet feared that our love was unrequited? How many times have our hearts been broken by insensitivity, ingratitude, betrayal? No, loving God cannot bring us peace. Only being loved by Him can. Just as we rest and relax the best in the places we feel safe, just as we feel safe in the presence of those who love us, we will only have heavenly peace when we know the love of Christ, a love “which passeth knowledge.”

How can we know something that’s too big to fit into our minds? Can a child fully understand his father’s love? Can he completely grasp the arms that encircle him? Does he really care that the arms are bigger than he is? Of course not! That’s what makes him feel so safe. We never outgrow that need for love. God’s love is the only love that will always satisfy that child we carry within us forever. That’s why He calls us His children.

Hungry for some peace? It starts here: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.”

“But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

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