Twas the Day after Christmas
December 26th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM
‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled ‘Twas the Day after Christmas, and this surely is that day. In the second chapter of the Book of Luke, the story of the angels and of the shepherds ends with this verse: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” [Luke 2:19].
Then after the unusual story of the Child twelve years of age in the temple [Luke 12:41-50], the Scriptures close it with this text: “And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but His mother kept all these sayings in her heart” [Luke 2:51]. The wondrous things at Christmas: the angels, the star, the shepherds, the wise men; then twelve long years of silence. Then the wondrous things that happened in the visit to Jerusalem as the Lad, twelve years of age, stood in the midst of the doctors of the law and astonished them with His theological conversation and questions [Luke 2:46-47]. Then eighteen years of silence, of dreary drudgery, tradition says making ox yokes; religion in the letdown, after the first glorious enthusiasm is passed and spent—the day after Christmas.
It is wonderful to live on the mountaintop, at the very gate of heaven—like the old song we sang years ago,
I’m living on the mountain underneath a cloudless sky,
I’m drinking at the fountain that never shall run dry;
Oh yes, I’m feasting on the manna, what a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah land.
[“Dwelling in Beulah Land,” C. Austin Miles]
Why don’t you sing that once in a while? It is glorious to live on the mountaintop at Bethel, the entrance into heaven. But always there is that inevitable comedown and that letdown. It never fails to follow.
I think of Elijah in possibly one of the greatest hours in Israel’s history, on the top of Mt. Carmel, calling fire down from heaven, calling rain down from the skies, slaying the false prophets of Baal [1 Kings 18:1-40]. And so mighty was the exultant, ecstatic spirit of Elijah that he ran for eighteen miles before the chariot of Ahab, from Mount Carmel down to Jezreel [1 Kings 18:45-46]. But there’s not anything that wears out the saints of God like running before the chariot of Ahab. The next day, before Jezebel, and the following day under a juniper tree, Elijah sat down and prayed that he might die; from the heights, and the ecstasy, and the fire, and the fury of Mount Carmel down to the despair of the juniper tree [1 Kings 19:1-4].
I think of the three apostles whom the Lord took on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, and what a glorious sight; Jesus with His face shining as the sun, transfigured, deity shining through His flesh. And Simon Peter said, “Lord, let us stay here. What a wonderful place. What a glorious experience. Let us stay here!” [Luke 9:28-33]. Then down in the valley, inevitably they went, and the frustration of unbelief as they faced a tormented and demented boy [Luke 9:37-42]. An inevitable letdown always comes.
There was a dear woman who came to me and said, “I don’t think I’m saved. I had such a glorious experience with the Lord, I was so happy in Christ. Now the feeling has left and my heart is empty. And I don’t think I was really saved”; religion in the letdown. “And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51], down to Nazareth—living the quiet life of a little boy—growing up like all the other children even after the story of Christmas; the angels, the shepherds [Luke 2:8-20], the wise men [Matthew 2:1-12].
And whenever you visit Nazareth and they take you to the place where Jesus is supposed to have grown up, you will be astonished at its poverty. It is nothing but a cave, “And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]; a yielded little boy, growing up like other little boys, like all the other lads in Nazareth.
“And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]. He followed the trade of Joseph [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3], the husband of Mary, and the supposed father of the Boy. He was known as the carpenter [Mark 6:3]. In the Book of Mark, chapter 6, when He went back to Nazareth after His messianic introductions by John the Baptist [John 1:29-36]—and after His baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], when the people heard Him [Mark 6:2]—this is what they said, “Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the brother of James, and Jude, and Joseph, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended in Him” [Mark 6:3].
Doing the work of an ordinary man those long years: thirty of them, of silence, of drudgery, after the beautiful, wondrous experiences in Bethlehem. But am I to suppose that the drudgery of work of His hands—making things with a carpenter’s tool, hammer, chisel, and saw—am I supposed to think that the work of the Lord was any less holy? Or He was any less divine as He used the tools of His trade than in the glorious, ecstatic experiences of the sky on fire, and the angel chorus singing [Luke 2:13-14], and the wise men with their rich gifts coming from afar? [Matthew 2:1-2, 11]. Is not one in God’s sight just as holy, and as heavenly, and as divine as the other; the drudgery as well as the ecstasy?
Out in the West, I went on Sunday in a vacation time to a little, tiny, Baptist church. When I walked in and sat down, the pastor was there in the pulpit. He came out of the pulpit and to me, and said, “Please, will you not bring the message to my people this morning?” I said, “No. Oh, no! I have come here to worship with you. You have your message prepared, I’ll be praying for you, and I’ll be the most sympathetic, prayerful listener in your audience.” Reluctantly, he went back up and sat down in the pulpit chair and delivered the message that morning.
After it was over he came to visit with me, and he said, “I have never been more embarrassed in my life than to preach in your presence. You should have been up there bringing the message, not I.” And he continued, saying, “You see, I,” he said, “am an uneducated man. I’ve never been to school. I am a carpenter. I make my living with my hands.” Then with a gesture he referred to the little church, and he said, “I built this church with my own hands. And you see that trailer on the back of the church lot? That’s where I live. There was no church here, and they needed the gospel of Christ preached to the people. So I came, and I ply my trade as a carpenter, and I built this church house. But I’m uneducated, I’m not trained. I know nothing of theology, and I haven’t been to the schools. And I am so embarrassed to be preaching in your presence.
I said to him, “Listen, man, my Lord was a carpenter [Mark 6:3], and He worked with His hands. I never worked with my hands in my life. I couldn’t have built this church. And God has ordained you with a love for these people, and a message from Christ in your heart. And you’re reaching souls I could never reach. And you’re preaching the gospel to people I’d never know or ever see. And my brother, God blessed my heart as I listened to you preach the gospel of Christ this morning!”
It might not have been, I could say to you, in the finest of English; and his grammar might not have been chaste; and maybe his theology might not have had depth; but God was in it, and Christ was magnified. And I felt, under the ministry of that carpenter, a blessing from heaven. Religion in drudgery, religion in waiting; religion when the color, and the enthusiasm, and the ecstasy, and the triumph maybe is not seen. That can be the God-kind of religion and the Jesus kind of religion just as much as if you were in the presence of the angel chorus itself.
Now I want to apply that in two ways. First, this thing of religion in the letdown, religion in drudgery, religion in common ordinary work of the day, religion in waiting, I want to apply that first to the faith itself, to Christianity itself, to the religion itself. And then I want to apply it, second, to the work of the building of the church.
First, to the faith itself, the drudgery in religion, the waiting in religion, religion after its first great enthusiasm may be spent and past; religion in the letdown. I don’t know of a better way to present it than to take for an example the second coming of Christ [Jude 14]. There is no doubt, and you can sense it through every syllable and word of the New Testament, there is no doubt but that the first century Christians expected the return of Christ in their lifetime. It was a marvelous hope for them, a comfort in persecution, a righting of all of the wrongs of the world. It was the most dynamic of all the motivating forces the world has ever seen; that spirit of expectancy of the soon return of Christ to those first century Christians.
Then the years passed, and He didn’t come. And five hundred years passed, and He didn’t come. And a thousand years passed, and He didn’t come. And fifteen hundred years passed, and He didn’t come. And now, almost two thousand years have passed, and the Lord still hasn’t come.
May I read from the informal words of a world famous theologian, a modern ecclesiastic? Listen to him. I quote: “The expectation of a second coming, has not that expectation proved to be a failure too? You see, He has not come, and there are no real signs of His coming. The thought He would come again, come in clouds of glory, and take His power and reign has proved futile. We look around the world and see only frustration after the passing of two thousand years. The promise of His second coming has not been fulfilled. It will never be fulfilled. They were mistaken, those early Christians. They were mistaken about this.” This is the pronouncement of one of the greatest theologians of this modern world. And he represents a thousand other academicians just like him.
What about that hope and what about that promise? Such a marvelous, motivating, glorious experience of anticipation on the part of those first Christians, and now two thousand years have passed and still He is waiting. I don’t know a better way to speak of it than of a preacher whose brother was the pastor of this church for forty-seven years.
George Truett had a brother named Jim Truett, who also was a preacher, and whose daughter still belongs here, a faithful member of this dear congregation. Mother Truett loved her son Jim, seemingly above all the other children. When somebody would come to Mother Truett and speak of the world-famous George Truett, she would reply, “Yes, yes. But have you heard my son, Jim?”
She loved her boy, Jim. Jim Truett, for years and years, pastor here in North Texas, in Oklahoma, and finally retired in age at Whitewright, a little town northeast of Dallas. In the closing years of Jim Truett’s life, every morning, every morning he would go to the window in his house that faced the east, raise the shade, stand there looking at the rising sun, and say, “Perhaps today, He will come. Perhaps today.” And he lived like that.
It may be in the evening,
When the work of the day is done,
And I sit in the twilight,
And watch the sinking sun;
While I hear the city children
Passing along the street,
Among those thronging footsteps
May come the Savior’s feet;
It may be in the morning,
When the sun is bright and strong,
And the dew is glittering sharply
On the neat trimmed lawn;
With the long day’s work before me,
I rise up with the sun,
And the neighbors come to talk a while
Of all that must be done.
I remember that He may be next
To come in at the door,
To call me from my busy work
So, I am watching quietly
Whenever the sun shines brightly
I rise and say,
“Surely, it is the shining of His face,”
And I look unto the gates of His high place
Beyond the sea
For I know He is coming
Shortly to summon me.
And when a shadow falls across
The window of my room,
Where I am working at my appointed task,
I lift my head to watch the door and ask,
If He is come;
And the angel answers softly,
In my home;
“Only a few more shadows,
And He will come.”
[adapted from “Coming,” Barbara Miller McAndrew]
Religion in the letdown; waiting patiently in the drudgery and work of ordinary life for that greater, and better, and ultimate day.
Now may I apply that thought to the work of the church? First, it was to the faith—believing, trusting, waiting—even after the first brilliant enthusiasm and experience is spent, still trusting, still believing, still waiting. Now may I apply it to the work of the church? There is no such thing as attainment without drudgery. There is no area in life in which that is not true. There is a singer, but oh, dear! the hours, and the days, and the years of the drudgery of practice in learning how brilliantly, gloriously to sing. A pianist; the drudgery of the hours, and the days, and the years of practice, and practice, and practice, without which there is no brilliant concert pianist. An athlete: sometimes I am appalled at the amount of time, and energy, and practice that enter into the preparation for a contest of maybe just a few minutes.
Could I apply that, facetiously, to a horse? When I was a student in the seminary in Kentucky, I made a trip over there to Lexington to see Man o’ War. I believe that was the finest piece of horseflesh that ever lived. He was unreal. Man o’ War, a big bay stallion; that’s the most impressive horse that ever was foaled. Oh, that Man o’ War! He just looked the part. And do you know upon a time, I put together all of the running that he did in his entire life? He never lost a race except one time when a jockey held him back purposely. In all of the lifetime and in all of the training of that incomparable stallion, he never was in a race altogether—all of his running—more than something less than thirty minutes. All of his racing together, less than thirty minutes; the drudgery and the drudgery of training, and training, and training, working, getting ready, preparing.
A physician is like that—the years and years of study in the college, in the medical school, as an intern in the hospital—and if he is a specialist, other years of intensive training. And I also think that about a true preacher of Christ. How many times do I see an endowed young man prepare about half a dozen or a dozen messages, and away he goes, trying to put the fire of the world out with a thimble, without training, without theological background, responding to the crowds and the sensation of the big revival; I’d hate to have to listen to him beyond one week or two weeks. For the true minister of Christ ought to be at that study table, poring over God’s Word, learning what this means. And pretty much the devotion of the man to his work can be judged by the amount of time he is willing in drudgery, in disciplined study, to pour his life into it. Everything pristine, victorious, marvelous, is like that—there is a concomitant built into it; it is drudgery, and patience, and labor.
So it is in the building of the church; every facet of this glorious ministry carries with it that willingness to labor, and to work, and to wait day after day, month after month, year after year. Let me take one of the things that we do at Christmas time. We have a banquet for our mission children. That’s a sweet thing to do. We have a wonderful dinner for them, our six missions––our seven missions I’m reminded by Ira McCollister the other day––our seven missions, have all those children. We have a beautiful dinner for them. And we have presents for them.
Well, I was seated between two of those little children, and the little boy on my left was named Randy. And Santa Claus came in and called Randy’s name. Well, the little boy was not quite prepared for so glorious an experience. So he just sat there—and his older sister was on the other side of him beyond me—and she turned and said, “Randy, he’s called your name! Hold up your hand, Randy, hold up your hand! He’s called your name!” And when Randy held up his hand, he went up and got his present, and the little boy on my right, on the other side, the little boy said to me, “Do you think he’ll call my name? And do you think that I’ll have a present?”
I said, “Son, if he doesn’t call your name, I’ll get up there and do it myself. And if there’s no present for you, I’ll get a present for you. Yes, sir! Your name is going to be called, and you’re going to have a present.” Why, the whole thing is just wonderful; it’s just exhilarating. It is a sweet a thing as you could ever look at or experience. It’s something our church does every Christmas.
But—but, do you think those people are hungry just at Thanksgiving time, or just at Christmas time? What about January? And what about February? And what about March, April, and May? And what about all the rest of the twelve months and three hundred sixty-five days of the year? That’s why I like the work of the church. A club in the city of Dallas will give out baskets at Thanksgiving and remembrances at Christmas, but the church in its ministry to those seven chapels and missions; we’re at it every day of the year. On the Lord’s Day, on the days of the week, and that’s the way it ought to be, a continuing support, consistent throughout the year.
This is the way with the work of our church. We have special events, revival meetings, convocations, retreats, unusual days and programs; but the actual foundational primary support of the church lies in the week by week effort by which we serve God and the Sunday by Sunday gathering of our people in classes, in choir, in worship, in union, in all of the many-faceted ministries of our people. And that is the basic financial support of the church. Once in a while someone will give an unusual gift; how thankful and grateful we are. But the great fundamental strength of the church lies in the support of the people Sunday by Sunday, on the first day of the week, setting aside for God as the Lord has prospered us [1 Corinthians 16:2].
Could I point out an illustration, brilliant, of that? I––Oh, dear! Isn’t that something? Well, don’t you want to hear what I have to say? The clock’s covered up back there, and I just get to talking to you, and I just forget about the time. I went to India, and eighteen miles up the great river from Calcutta, I visited Carey College, where William Carey—the great missionary—worked. And in the college there is a spacious library. And in the library there is a room in which has been gathered all of the work of that incomparable linguist and translator.
You just couldn’t believe your eyes! As I went through the room and took down book, after book, after book and looked at the work of William Carey: lexicons, dictionaries, translations, he made the gospel available in the language of the people for over 300 million Indians. He was a veritable genius in language, in semantics, in nomenclature, in translation. It is phenomenal what William Carey did! And those books were astonishing to me!
We think of Ben Johnson and the first dictionary. Why, William Carey, it seemed to me, had half a dozen dictionaries just as laboriously wrought and made in the language of those different tribes in India. Well, anyway, listen—when he was an older man, he was talking one day to his biographer, and this is what he said. Quote: “If, after my removal, anyone should think it worthwhile to write the story of 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.”
Just being faithful, just staying with it, just plodding; religion in the letdown—after maybe the ecstasy and the glorious experiences are spent and passed, just continuing on in the work of the Lord.
And doesn’t that invite us all? I may not be a star, and I may not carry in my train the galaxies of glory, but I can love God, I can be faithful, and I can try. And what I have, and what I can do I offer to Jesus. Like blind Milton, at the very heart and height of his career, lost his eyesight. Do you remember that sonnet on his blindness?
When I consider how my light is spent
E’er half my days in this dark world, and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged in me useless, though my soul more bent
Therewith to serve my Maker…
[“Sonnet XIX: When I Consider How My Light is Spent”; John Milton]
And closes, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” Maybe all I can do is just wait; maybe all I can do is just pray, but in the faithfulness and dedication of everyday consecrated living, God finds His finest strength and His most worthy disciples.
We must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, a family, a couple, or just you, while we sing this song, to give your heart to Jesus or to come into the fellowship of the church, down one of these stairways, into the aisle on this lower floor and here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, today, taking the Lord as my Savior,” or, “putting my life in the fellowship of the church.” Upon the first note of the first stanza, come. And the dear Lord bless and keep you in the way. The angels precede you. Make the decision now in your heart, and when we stand up in a moment to sing, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, I make it now.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.