‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-65 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled ‘Twas the Day After Christmas, or another word for it would be Religion in the Let-Down. And everything around here bespeaks the apropos title. The Sunday school is down. The Training Union will be down. The choir is down, and the organ has absolutely quit. And I know how it feels. And the thing that I preach today is nothing unusual or unique. It is a shared experience by all of us in every segment of our life and living and especially in our religious devotion.
Now the background of the message is in the Christmas story. In the second chapter of the Book of Luke, after the angels and after the shepherds and after all of the glory of the nativity [Luke 2:8-16], it says in verse , “And when they had performed all these things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth” [Luke 2:39]. Then there is another bright and scintillating story in the life of our Lord, twelve years of age, before the doctors of the law in the temple [Luke 2:21-24]. Then that closes with verse 51, “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]. And for the following eighteen years there is nothing but the let down and the humdrum and the usual mediocrity of daily living. Isn’t that typical? And doesn’t that follow the pattern of life as you know it, and especially in the world of our religious experience?
Christmas: all of the marvelous, indescribable, glorious, incomparable, celestial and heavenly visitations. There is the annunciation to Elizabeth [Luke 1:5-25]; there is the annunciation to Mary [Luke 1:26-35]. There is the vision to Zechariah, the priest of God, from the angel Gabriel, standing on the right hand side of the golden altar [Luke 1:11-20]. There is the glorious star [Matthew 2:7, 9-10], there is the angelic announcement [Luke 2:8-14], there is the heavenly hosts [Luke 2:13-14]. There come the shepherds [Luke 2:15-16]. Here are the wise men, bearing their gifts of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh [Matthew 2:1-2, 9-11]; marvelous beyond anything the world [had] ever seen. The King is born, and then for twelve solid years not anything but just daily routine in that wretched little town of Nazareth.
Then another high experience, a great mountaintop, something that the artists have loved to paint from the beginning: the blessed young Child, twelve years of age, in the temple. And those old rabbis and doctors of the law and scribes, as they listen to that Lad and they ask Him questions and He asks them questions, and they are amazed and astonished by His understanding, and His acumen, and His learning, and His erudition; they are overwhelmed! [Luke 2:41-47]. Then, “He went down with His parents, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51] for eighteen more years. Not anything; just working with His hands as a carpenter. He was so known as a carpenter that when He began to preach and follow through His Galilean ministry, they were astonished at Him, at His words of grace and wisdom, and said, “Is not this the carpenter”? [Mark 6:3]. “Why, I have something in my house He made with His hands.” And another one, “The yoke that the oxen bear was framed by this Man.”
Eighteen years; He didn’t live but thirty-three. And in the economy of God, thirty of those thirty-three years were spent in the menial tasks of a daily livelihood. Now that is the background of this message; religion in the humdrum, religion in the let down, religion after the great experience has passed, religion in just ordinary, everyday, common life.
Oh, I don’t deny that those marvelous mountaintop experiences that we have are glorious to share. Oh, how marvelous! Oh, how wonderful! I wish we could enjoy them and share them and rejoice in them forever. I’m like Simon Peter on top of the Mount of Transfiguration. “O Lord,” he said, “let’s stay here. This is grand. This is sublime. Let’s build a tabernacle for Thee. Let’s build a tabernacle for Elijah. Let’s build a tabernacle for Moses, and let’s stay here on this mountaintop” [Mark 9:2-5]. And I understand. That’s what I would have liked to have said, and that’s what I would have liked to have done, could I have been up there with the Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration. But there’s always a valley down here by the side of that mount, always. And in that valley there are the sick, and the afflicted, and the bereaved, and the discouraged, and the lost, and the possessed, and these––which includes all of us––and these who need encouragement and help and the presence of the Almighty among us.
So the Lord said, “Not so, not so. Glorious, this day! Marvelous, this experience. Celestial, this very mountaintop; but they need us down there in the valley.” And the Lord went down with His three disciples, Peter, James, and John [Mark 9:9, 14], there to walk among those people who needed His help and His presence down in the valley; religion in the let down, religion in the humdrum, religion by the side of the mountaintop, down, down here.
Now all of us experience the discouragement that comes inevitably after these mountaintop, glorious confrontations with God. It’s different; there’s no inspiration, much; just drudgery, just toil, assignments, work. I can understand Elijah. On Mount Carmel when the fire came down he was so ecstatically buoyed up that he girded up his loins and ran thirty miles in front of the chariot of Ahab, all the way down to Jezreel [1 Kings 18:36-39, 46]. Then the next day, when he heard that word and threat from Jezebel [1 Kings 19:1-2], he was so discouraged that, running all the way down to Beersheba, [he] sat down under a juniper tree and said, “Lord, I wish I could die. I am no better than my fathers. Lord, let me die” [1 Kings 19:3-4]. That’s the discouragement, and it always follows. You can’t stay on a mountaintop. You can’t have a celestial experience forever. You can’t live up there all the time. You cannot. The human nature, and the human frame, and the human anatomy, and the human soul, and mind, and heart, and life are just not made that way. If you have a high experience—and you will if you know God––if you have a high experience, you’re going to have a let down by the side of it. If you’ve ever been on a mountaintop, you’re going to know what it is to come down to the valley, you just will.
And this is no new thing. People will come to me and say, “Dear pastor, I thought I had religion. I thought I was saved. I thought I was born again. Oh, the joy I had! And I just praised God, but all that feeling is gone now, all of it’s left me. And I don’t think I was really saved, I don’t think I was really born again, I don’t think I’m a real Christian. I think I’m lost; for all of that glory that I had is passed away.” And some people live just from experience to experience. They get religion once in a while, and that’s all they know of God.
In one of those little pastorates, one of the little country pastorates that I had as a student in the seminary, there was a man, and he got religion one time a year, maybe twice a year. And he came to Training Union. We had one BYTU which met an hour or so before the evening service. And when he’d get religion once a year, he would come down to that Training Union, and he would stand up, and he would take over for a solid hour. You never heard such goings-on in your life; nobody had anything to say else, nobody could do anything else. He came and preempted the entire service and away he went for a solid hour! Then I never saw him again for another year, until he got religion again.
How, how unpleasing to God so many of us must be in our devotion to our Lord. For in our church, and in our religious experience, and in our service to God, there is inevitably, inevitably a great chain; chain of days, chain of hours, chain of years sometime of just the usual and the ordinary, the dull, tedium, drudgery of daily living. Isn’t that what it says here? After these marvelous experiences, you just turn that page, and turn that page and read. After these marvelous experiences, “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51], for thirty years; for thirty years, that wondrous Child, humble and unspoiled, growing into a teenager, into youth, into manhood, and for thirty years working with His hands; the drudgery, the toil, making ox yokes.
“And subject unto His parents, subject unto His parents” [Luke 2:51]. This is such a meaningful passage; Paul, exhorting the Christians in the church at Rome, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself” [Romans 15:1-3]. For thirty years He went down and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them; doing the assignments that the household needed, employed by others for thirty years. After the glory and the marvel and the miracle, there not pleasing Himself; the drudgery of life. And He was known as a working man: “Is not this the carpenter?” [Mark 6:3]. “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” [Matthew 13:55].
In every area of life where there is an achievement of vital significance, you’ll find that. A glorious singer: oh, the days and the days, and the years and the years of drudgery that lies back of all of those scales, up and down, up and down. A marvelous pianist, a marvelous instrumentalist: the days and the years of drudgery and drudgery and drudgery. One of the questions I asked in Vienna was, “How is it that Beethoven lived in so many different houses?” Here is a Beethoven house, and there’s one, and there’s one, and there’s one. How did he live in so many houses? And the answer was very patent and pertinent. The people got tired of his everlasting practicing, and they moved him out! If I had to be pastor of “this here” church all the year long like I’ve been pastor of it the last month, and listen to this everlasting practicing, I don’t know what’d happen to me. I don’t know what would happen to me. I don’t blame them for moving him out! But you can’t be a Beethoven without that everlasting practicing; the drudgery, the drudgery, the drudgery, the drudgery!
Any athlete will know what I’m talking about; any athlete, even a horse will. I went in Lexington to see Man o’ War, the greatest animal that was ever bred, the greatest thoroughbred that ever ran. And he looked the part. He was a tremendous specimen. So I asked the trainer there, “How long did this horse run altogether, how long?” And all of the races of all of his life did not add up to thirty minutes! Imagine that, imagine that. He never lost a race except one, when the trainer reined him in on purpose. All of his racing career never amounted to as many as thirty minutes.
A physician will know that; the hours and years of dull drudgery. A true minister and preacher of the gospel will know that. All the inspiration of standing up before a congregation, and the young fellow will look and say, “I think I’d like to be a preacher.” But all the years, literally the years, that ought to go back of the understanding and the training of a true preacher of Jesus Christ; there are ten thousand currents that have swept through church history that he ought to know about. There are ten million aberrations of the truth that he ought to be acquainted with. There are ten thousand aberrations, and heresies, and things that are wrong that he ought to know when he stands up to minister to the eternal souls of men. The drudgery, the drudgery, the days of study and boning, and the drab dreariness of trying to get ready to be a true preacher of Jesus; and the church will know that. Any true church will know that. Oh! How fine and how marvelous to have these mountaintop experiences; a great revival service, a marvelous celebration, an incomparable convocation, and then the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and the next.
That is one reason—and may I emphasize it? That is one reason I believe in the ministry of the church over the ministry of a club. May I illustrate it? May I illustrate it? At Thanksgiving time, at Thanksgiving time all over the city of Dallas I see people with baskets in hand, going out to give food to the poor. And at Christmas time I see all over the city of Dallas, going out and giving baskets of food to the poor. And when I see it, I say, “Thank the Lord. That’s wonderful. Oh, how fine and how blessed! Look at these people out here at Thanksgiving, out here at Christmas time, with baskets of food for the poor.” I wonder. Do they get hungry also in January? Do those people get hungry in February? Do those people eat in March? Do those people eat in April and May? What about these people that all of a sudden we are cognizant of their needs, and there we go; Thanksgiving, there we go; Christmas. But what about September, and June, and July, and all the rest of the dates of the year? Don’t they eat at any other time except Thanksgiving and at Christmas?
That’s why I say I like the church. This church, in its seven missions, is ministering to the needs of those people three hundred sixty-five days out of a year, fifty-two weeks out of the year, twelve months out of the year! The ministry never stops! And I grant you it may not have the inspiration it does at Thanksgiving, and it may not have the inspiration that it possesses at Christmas; but our church is everlastingly at it. In the morning, we’ll be still working, and the next day, and the next, and the next, all through the year. There’s not any time when our church is not ministering to that mission group. That’s why I like this church.
Now I love those glorious hours, those happy hours, these experiences that we have. They had a year or so ago these little mission children down here, and each child had a name on a package up there at the front. And when the meal was over and the dinner was shared, why, a Santa Claus came in, took up those packages and called out these children’s name.
Right by me sat two little fellows. And one of them said, “Do you suppose he has my name? You reckon he’s going to call my name?” And his little brother said, “Yes, Ricky, he’s got your name. He’s going to call your name. You just wait. You just wait.” And after a while Santa picked up a package and said, “Ricky, Ricky.” And the older brother said, “Ricky, he’s calling your name! Hold up your hand, Ricky. Hold up your hand, hold up your hand!”
And the little fellow stood up and held up his hand, just as high as he could. And they brought him a package. Oh, I like that! I like that. But I like it the next month, helping that little fellow, and the next, and the next, and the next. Not just once in a while, not just interested in them the twenty-fifth day of December; but interested in that little fellow the twenty-sixth day, the day after Christmas; and interested in that little fellow January, the day after December; and interested in that little fellow all the way through. Religion in the humdrum, religion in the ordinary, religion in the mediocre, religion, just going along, going along.
I suppose the greatest contributions that have been made to the kingdom of God have been made in those precious areas of just ministering day after day, faithful always, like a bridge of stars to be counted on. There you are in your place, faithfully standing.
When I was in India I made my way up the Calcutta River to Serampore, about eighteen miles or so above Calcutta. I wanted to see what William Carey, the incomparable missionary and emissary of Jesus, had done at Serampore. That missionary had done more to make possible the Christianization and the civilization of India than any other man who ever lived. Through his ingenuity there were something like four hundred million people to whom the gospel was made known, the preaching of Jesus, through William Carey.
I went to his library and there I surveyed those books that reflect the marvelous genius of that English missionary. There were the Bibles he had translated into several of the different languages of India. Here were the lexicons. There were the grammars. Here were the vocabularies and the dictionaries, on and on. It was an amazing thing to me. How a man could ever be so endowed as to do a thing like that was just overwhelming to me! Then I read of the life of William Carey. And he was speaking to his biographer, and this is what he said: “If after my removal, anyone should think it worthwhile to write my life, I will give you a criterion by which you may judge its correctness. If he gives me credit for being a plodder, he will describe me justly; anything beyond this will be too much. I can plod, I can persevere in any definite pursuit; to this I owe everything.”
Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, just serving God. I suppose there are some high places in it. I’m sure some great, marvelous, celestial experiences in it, I’m sure; but mostly, mostly, just working, just working day after day.
One of the surprises that I had in going to these mission fields far away, out in the jungle, or out in a desert, or in the center of Africa, or wherever; one of the amazing things to me: you know, I read of the romantic stories of the missionary and I think of all those things that come to pass. And when you go out to the mission field there are some, maybe, that you might see. But you know what you’ll see mostly out there in that jungle, or out there in that desert, or out there in the middle of Africa? Mostly you will see that daily tedium; they’re building a house, they’re trying to get a place where they can get water, they’re trying to take care of their children. And they’re trying to gather the people together, and they’re trying to learn the language, and they’re trying to put the Word of God in that language. And then they are patiently trying to teach the people how to read and how to understand the message of God. And day after day and year after year and a lifetime, that romanticism in missions is mostly just dull drudgery; work with tedium in it beyond anything that it seems that the human spirit can endure; serving God in the ordinary. Well, it takes a whole lot to be faithful like that, doesn’t it? But that’s what God needs. That’s what God needs.
When I was in the seminary at Louisville, I had a dear and a precious friend from England, an English boy, an English young man who had come to the seminary for his training. He was so gifted. You couldn’t help but love him. He could sing, though he was a preacher, he could sing. And I had him come with me, and he sang, led the singing in revival meetings in which I tried to preach. And he had such different songs. At the eight-fifteen hour I volunteered to sing one of those songs that I had never heard before. And the congregation was very relieved when I didn’t do it, which was a great insult to me. And I don’t see any more enthusiasm here at this service, either, for me to sing one of those songs. I never heard songs like that.
He is the sweetest, finest young fellow, like Lee Roy Till. Well, I got to know him real well. His father was an officer in the British Army, and for almost all of his military life was stationed in India, and led the British march and campaign and conquest of India. The father had died when this young minister was a boy. So upon a summer, the young minister went back to England and spent the summer in England. And after the summer vacation was over, he came back to the seminary at Louisville.
And upon a day he said to me, he said, “Criswell, come to my room, I have something to show you.” I went to his room and sat down. And he brought before me and laid in my hands a large book, much larger than this, a large book. And he said, he said, “This is my father’s journal; the most prized possession of my life. It was given me when I went home this summer, and I brought it back.” It was the journal of that British officer in India. I turned those yellowed pages and looked through the journal. Almost all of it was a record of his military exploits in India. Then as I turned the pages, I came to the back; and the back pages listed all the men who had ever fought under his command. And I turned those pages and looked through those names: a roll call. Here was the man’s name, there was his address—where he came from. Here was something about him, and then the last column described the end of the way. And as I turned the pages, and followed each man’s name, and to the final column, it would be like this: the name, his address, something of his service, and then, “Fell in battle.” The name, the address, something of his service, and then, “Died on the march”; the name, the address, something of his service, and then, “Slain in battle”; the name, address, something, “Killed in action.”
And I turned those pages, and as I did I thought of God’s roll call in glory. The angel writes the name, our address, something of our service, and then, “He quit.” The name, the address, something of our service, and, “He laid down on a job.” And again, “He got mad.” And again, “He fell by the wayside.” And again, “He loved the wrong world.” And again, “He forsook the faith.” Oh! Of how many does the recording angel in heaven write those words: “He forsook the faith.” “He gave up his Lord.” “He turned aside from his church.” “He got mad,” on and on and on. How infinitely precious if, after God writes our name in the Book of Life, and our address, and something of our service, He could write, “Fell in battle”; “Died on the march”; “Slain in the conflict”; “Faithful unto death?” Oh! How God needs just plain, ordinary workmen who are faithful on Monday as on Sunday, Tuesday as on Monday, in the summertime as well in the wintertime, next year as well as this year.
Religion in the let-down, the day after Christmas; when the enthusiasm is gone, nothing but the dull, drab drudgery left, just hard work. But at it, but at it, faithfully staying with it until the Lord shall say, “It is enough. Well done, good and faithful servant: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” [Matthew 25:21]. That’s what we need. May God encourage us to be thus in our devoted ministries before our blessed Savior.
Now we’re going to sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family to come into the fellowship of the church, a couple, one somebody you, while we sing this song of appeal, make it this morning. “Here I am, pastor, and here I come.” If you’re in this balcony there is a stairwell at the front and the back on either side, and there’s time and to spare while you come. The whole family of you, “Pastor, this is my wife, and these are our children; all of us are coming today.” This is a good day to come. This is a marvelous hour to step out into that aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, “I take the Lord as my Savior today, and here I am” [Romans 10:9-10]. A couple, as God shall make the appeal, as the Spirit shall press the invitation to your heart, come, come. In a moment when we stand to sing, when you stand up, stand up coming. Down that stairway, into this aisle, “Pastor, I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus, and here I am, here I come” [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Make it now, make it this morning. Make it this precious and glorious hour, while we stand and while we sing.