THE DAYSPRING FROM ON HIGH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-23-62 10:50 a.m.
On television and on radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Before I begin the morning message, could I say a preparatory and preliminary word concerning our beautiful and meaningful service tonight? Twenty-five years ago, graduated from our Southern Seminary, I began my first full time pastorate in a county seat town in Oklahoma. Twenty-five years ago our nation was still in the grips of a terrible Depression; people were unemployed. They were hungry, they were cold. It came to my heart then that on the Christmas night, on the Sunday night before Christmas, when we were having such desperate struggle to have any kind of a service in the church, it came to my heart that God might bless a White Christmas program, to which people were invited to bring packages, wrapped in white, of staple groceries and used clothing.
Then through the following weeks and months of the cold winter, we could give these things out to our poor. I have never seen a thing so blessed of God in my life. That first White Christmas program, our people brought white gifts for the poor that almost filled the front part of the church. It was an enormous response. And the White Christmas program honored God and was a blessing untold to all of our people.
Every year since then, in my pastorate, on the Sunday night before Christmas, we have had a beautiful and meaningful program. You come tonight and bring a gift wrapped in white. As Brother Carter says, if you haven’t the white paper or string at home, bring it to the church. There is white paper in Coleman Hall. And bring it up here and put it at the feet of our Christ Child. We have six missions, and through the rest of the winter our pastors of those six missions will distribute those staple groceries and that clothing to the poor among our people. I like the way our church ministers; we don’t just bring a basket at Christmas time or at Thanksgiving and then forget the people. We minister to them three hundred sixty-five days out of the year. And one of the instruments of our ministry are these beautiful White Christmas offerings we bring to our Lord.
Then of course all of the monetary gifts we bring tonight are dedicated to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering for foreign missions, to preach the gospel abroad. As you look on television, I’m sure you can see somewhat of the beautiful Japanese decorations in this auditorium. These Japanese lanterns around and the lighted screen behind are some of the most effective decorations we’ve had in this long series of White Christmas programs. And of course this is just a small part of the stage setting for the beautiful and meaningful dramatic production tonight. It is entitled “The Heartcry of Japan.” And it will have a message for all of us and especially for us who are praying for the tremendous evangelistic appeal to be made throughout the islands of Nippon this coming spring.
There are about two thousand five hundred seats in this auditorium. And we’ll be here tonight and standing around the walls. And we’ll have one of the most rewarding, and meaningful, and beautiful services that we’ve ever looked upon. I’ve been in Hollywood, as you have, been on Broadway, as you have, been in London and Paris and Italy and I don’t know how many other places looking at stage productions. I’ve never seen any anywhere more beautifully executed than these right here in our dear First Baptist Church. You would think they were professionals; that’s because they have the Spirit of God in their hearts. And they do this thing like those players do at Oberammergau, to the glory of God and to the praise of our blessed Lord Jesus.
Now the sermon this morning is entitled The Dayspring from On High. And the text is in the first chapter of Luke and the seventy-eighth verse: “Whereby the anatole from on high hath visited us.” You know, I do not think in the Greek language there is a more beautiful word than this word anatole, a-n-a-t-o-l-e. In our language we would pronounce it “anatole.” I think that would be a beautiful name to give a child, Anatole, Anatole. It is translated “Dayspring” here in Luke 1:78. Everywhere else in the Bible it is translated “east.” The word means “the dawn.” It means the sun rising. It means the glory of the light that fills and gladdens this world. Now because it is in our hearts always so to honor in reverence the Holy Scriptures of Christ, I’m going to read the context. And if you’d like to follow it in your Bible, turn to the first chapter of Luke, beginning at verse 67, and we shall read to the end of the chapter:
And Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for He hath visited and redeemed His people,
He hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David;
As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
That we should be saved; that the hand of those that hate us should be destroyed;
That there should be for us mercy promised to our fathers, whereby God shall remember His holy covenant;
The oath which He sware to our father Abraham,
That He would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear,
In holiness, in righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.
And thou, child,
addressing the great forerunner of the Lord Jesus,
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways;
To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring, the anatole, whereby the dawn, the sun rising from on high hath visited us,
To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of His showing unto Israel.
Then the next [chapter] announces the incomparable glory of the birth of Jesus our Lord.
From the very beginning of the prophetic Scriptures, referred to by Zacharias the father of John the Baptist, the messianic hope of Israel was always looked upon as a sun rising, as a light of glory and gladness. For example, in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Numbers, “The Holy Spirit of God came upon Balaam, and he prophesied, saying, There shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel” [Numbers 24:17]. Another typical passage of the glory of the light of the messianic hope is found in the sixtieth chapter of Isaiah:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come; and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall rise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.
Another typical passage is in the closing verses of the last book of the Bible, of the Old Covenant, in Malachi chapter 4: “But unto you that fear My name shall the Sun of Righteousness arise with healing in His wings” [Malachi 4:2]. And in the great announcement of the coming of our Lord in the fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew:
That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, The land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.
I repeat. Wherever in the Bible the messianic hope is described, it is always in terms of the light of the knowledge of the glory of God that shined in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6]. The anatole, the Dayspring, the dawn of the glory of God hath arisen upon us.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth, the everlasting light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
“Whereby the anatole, the Dayspring, the sun rising, from God, hath fallen upon us” [Luke 1:78].
Then in the prophecy of this wondrous and marvelous Child, there were four things here described by which the richness of the glory of God should lighten, and gladden, and bless this weary world. In the text, first it says, “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” [Luke 1:79]. The messianic hope in Christ then is first taking away from the world’s darkness, and adding to the world’s light.
Doubtless, or as far as I would judge, certainly our Lord was born in the springtime. I would know that because it is cold in that high ridge of mountains upon which Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and Shiloh, and Samaria are located. It would be a climate about like here in the city of Dallas. It’s cold this time of the year, and the shepherds would not be out in the fields at night watching their flocks. They and their sheep would be in the sheepfold. But in the providence of God in Christendom, the great celebration of the nativity of our Lord is located at this time of the year. And I think it carries in it a meaning that sometimes we might not remember. At this time of the year, for about two or three days, the length of the night at its longest and the shortness of the day at its shortest is for two or three days just about the same. Then on the twenty-fifth day of December is the first day that God takes away from the length of the night of this world and adds to the length of the day, which is a harbinger of the blessing of Christ upon His people – to give light, taking away from the earth’s night and adding to the earth’s light. This is the messianic mission and glory of Christ, the anatole of God, the sun rising of God upon our world.
I am sure that some of you – maybe they still do it – but some of you visited Carlsbad Caverns back there when every light was turned out. And it was so dark, dark, dark, seven hundred feet beneath the surface of the ground. And by a tremendous stalagmite, a tremendous thing, taking God thousands and thousands of years to build, they have labeled it “the rock of ages.” And when the lights are turned out, the cavern is as dark and impenetrable as the night itself. Then there is a prepared group of guides who begin to sing, “Rock of ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee.” And as the beautiful song is sung, at the distance in the cavern, the light begins to shine and increases and wax greater and stronger until the whole glory of the cavern is once again a maze of the marvel of the handiwork of God.
I thought of that in thinking of this text – the darkness, darkness, the gross darkness, as the prophet Isaiah described, that covers our world, but, “Arise, shine, for the glory of God hath dawned upon thee” [Isaiah 60:1]; the anatole from on high that gladdens and brightens this world.
Did you ever think of the miracle of sunrise; the marvel indescribable glory of the quiet and beautiful dawn? Suppose there were no light. Suppose there were no dawn, no anatole, no sunrising. Oh, the fierce and frigid winds, the glacial rivers, the vast and frozen seas, the howling of wolves, and the miserable cries of mankind! Death and frozen desolation everywhere, all because of the dark, deep, perpetual, eternal, impenetrable. And what changes it to light, and life, and glory, and warmth, and gladness? A miracle that is so quiet, and so sweet, and so precious that when it falls upon the cheek of a sleeping babe, will not disturb; the miracle of God’s anatole. “Whereby the anatole form on high hath visited us” [Luke 1:78]; the warmth of the presence of the light of God in this earth.
It is thus with the tender, and sweet, and gentle, and precious influence of Christ in our world; so humble, so quiet, so tender, but oh so meaningful; taking away from the world’s night and adding to the world’s day: “To give light to them that sit in darkness,” and second, “and in the shadow of death” [Luke 1:79]. Our Lord in His messianic glory takes away from the shadows of the death of this life and adds to the glory of our hope of life, and resurrection, and immortality.
There is a deacon here seated right in front of me that for several years invited me to bring a Christian message to a Christmas party he held each year for his employees. They were beautiful occasions. The company had prepared gifts for the men, and they gave gifts to one another. And it was a meaningful thing for the families of all of those men who worked for the company.
Upon a time when Christmas came, about a day or two before they were to have the party, one of the men was tragically killed in an accident, and his wife died with him, and they left three little orphaned children. It was a loved family and it crushed the hearts of the other men in the company. And they came to their boss man and said, “We just don’t know whether it is right for us to have so beautiful a party and this sadness covering our souls.” So the deacon brought it to me, and he said, “Pastor, what shall I do? What do you think is appropriate?”
Well, I replied very simply. I said, “Deacon, it all depends upon what Christmas means. If Christmas means drunkenness, and rioting, and debauchery, and pleasure unbounded and unrestrained, if Christmas means the liberty, well, of course, I don’t think it would be appropriate to get drunk, and to riot, and to live in dirt, and filth, and iniquity at that time when we’re grieving over the loss of a dear friend.” “But,” I said, “if Christmas means the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus, and if Christmas means that Christ has come into this darkened world to give us a hope beyond the grave and beyond the night and beyond the dark, if Christmas means God in human flesh lifting up a sorrying and despairing humanity, if it means that, then let’s thank God for the light, and the hope, and the preciousness, and share it with one another.” So we had our meeting and we had our Christmas party. And the pastor brought the best message that he knew how on the true and spiritual meaning of Christmas. Oh, that it might always be thus: a time of immeasurable gratitude to God!
I don’t know why I can’t get rid of it. I wish I could accommodate myself to it. Driving down these streets yesterday, time, and time, and time again the car in front of me would cut over and stop at a liquor store, cut over and stop at a liquor store, cut over and stop at a liquor store; and as you drive by, people going in and out of the liquor stores. Why? Because it’s Christmas and Christmas is the time for rioting and drunkenness, debauchery and waste! It makes your heart hurt. Christmas time is God’s time. It’s Christ’s time. It’s a time for light, for glory, for prayer, for praise, for unspeakable thanksgiving for the love of the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; “Whereby the anatole from on high hath visited us, to give us light, we who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” [Luke 1:78-79].
Then he says a third and a beautiful thing: “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins” [Luke 1:77]. Then the light of the glory of the messianic hope is to take away from our sins and to add to our salvation. Take away from the darkness and add to the light. Take away from death and add to life. Take away from the knowledge of our sins, take away from it, and add to the glory of our salvation. “Thou shalt call His name Iēsous, Savior, Jesus,” said the angel, “because He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21].
The sweetness of the blessedness of the love of God in the atoning ministry of Christ is beyond what a poet could write, or an angel could sing, or a preacher could preach. When God made the heavens and our universe He did it by fiat! He spoke the word; there was light. He spoke the word; there were the suns and the stars. He spoke the word and there was all creation before Him.
But when our Lord redeemed the earth and bought it back to Himself, He framed in the womb of a virgin girl a prepared body for the Son of God. And He offered that sacrifice on the altar as an atonement for our sins. And Christmas means that God hath visited us in our despair, our judgment and our condemnation, and God in Christ hath made a way whereby we can find remission of all our iniquities.
No man shall ever see the face of God in unforgiven sin, no man. Sin shuts out the soul from the presence of God. “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And in unforgiven sins a man shall never stand in the presence of God to live; only to die, to be discarded, to be shut out, to be sent away, to be locked up, to be cast into perdition and damnation. That’s why the gospel is the good news. “Fear not,” said the angel, “for I bring you glad tidings which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” [Luke 2:10-11]; the good news that in Christ all of our sins are washed away.
“There is no man that sinneth not” [1 Kings 8:46]. But in His mercy and in His goodness, God hath made a way whereby all of us can come boldly to the throne of grace and someday look on the face of God and live; “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins” [Luke 1:77]. And a fourth and a last: “to guide our feet into the way of peace. Whereby the Dayspring, the anatole from on high hath visited us” [Luke 1:78]: to take away from the night and add to the light; to take away from death and add to life; to take away from our sins and add to our salvation; and the last, to take away from our strife and war and battle, and add to our peace.
Like so many of you, I looked at this world after the Second World War. If I were to live a thousand lifetimes, I could never ever erase from my memory the sight of the waste of the terrible fury of modern warfare. Great cities as big as Chicago, from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see, nothing but rubble, and debris, and jagged saw toothed buildings, standing in pieces, and the wreckage strewn over the face of the earth. And as you look and as you look, your hearts cry, “O God! Isn’t there some better way, some better way?” To look upon the vast almost uncounted multitudes that crowd out of Red China into Hong Kong, thousands and thousands, so much so that soldiers have to stand at the border gates to turn back the human mass seeking food, and shelter, and hope, and life, and liberty. And as you look upon them your heart cries, “O God! Is there not some better way?”
As you look upon the waste of war, the refugee, homeless and helpless, no place to go, all he ever loved in his life destroyed, all he ever possessed confiscated. There he is a pilgrim in the earth and the road doesn’t end. On, and on, and on covering the face of whole continents, the displaced and the refugee, the flotsam and the jetsam of battle and war, and your heart cries, “O God! Is there not some better way?”
Or go through the continent large, vast, dark, and ignorance and superstition has led the people into every kind of superstition, and they are destroyed in tuberculosis and in every kind of vile loathsome disease that you could imagine. And you see them without doctors, without hospitals, without nurses. “O God! Is there not some better way?”
And visit our American military cemeteries abroad. It is sad enough to visit one say at Arlington or in these other parts where great national cemeteries are ministered to, and kept up, and carefully preserved by our government. But there is a sadness in visiting an American military cemetery abroad that brings a despair and a heart’s cry beyond what I could describe.
High up in the Apennines in Italy, there on the slopes of a hill in Hong Kong, in England, in Germany, in France, in Africa, a little piece of ground with the American flag flying high overhead; and then standing there and remembering that one of my dear members, a mother and a father, said, “When you pass by, our son is buried there.” Or, “We think that he lost his life nearby and is doubtless buried there without a name, unknown.” And your heart’s cry, “O God, is there not some better way?”
War seems so many times so futile. We destroy a Hitler; a Stalin takes his place. We destroy a Tojo; a Mao Tse-tungg takes his place. And that cruel, unending wheel of grinding despair seemingly is to curse mankind forever.
But the prophecy said, “Whereby the anatole, the Dayspring, from on high hath visited us, to guide our feet into the path of peace” [Luke 1:78-79]. Every messianic hope you will ever read in the Word of God will find its ultimate and beautiful climax in the incomparable poetic descriptions of the Prince of Peace. As Micah said:
He shall judge from among the peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
And Isaiah added:
And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
For unto us
[Isaiah 11:6, 9]
– cried the great prophet Isaiah –
For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government of the kingdoms of this world shall rest upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Oh, the meaning, the blessedness of the messianic light of the knowledge of the glory of God that shines in the face of Jesus Christ! [2 Corinthians 4:6]. “Whereby the anatole, the Dayspring from on high hath visited us” [Luke 1:78-79]; no more beautiful or meaningful hour in the year than when we pause to thank God for the birth of our Lord into the world.
Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. A family you, put your life with us in the fellowship of the church. While we sing this hymn, you come and stand by me, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God. This is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming this day,” or just one somebody you. In the balcony round, there is time and to spare, if you’re on that last seat in that last topmost balcony, if you’re on your way down and we were to quit singing, you come on anyway, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front. At the eight-fifteen service we had one of our most glorious rewards. I was overwhelmed! Oh! I thank God anew that at this time of the year God was saving souls and adding to His church. Ah, that the Lord at this hour will do it again through you! Come, come. Make it now. Make it this morning. Make it today. On the first note of this first stanza, step out to the front, and you will find God walking by your side every step of the way. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.