Twas the Day After Christmas
December 26th, 1971 @ 10:50 AM
‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-71 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. And if there was ever a subject more apropos, I would not know it.
In the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke, after the story of the angel’s song and the worship of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], the beloved physician closes it with this sentence, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” [Luke 2:19]. Then after the story of the unusual appearance of the Christ Child, twelve years of age, with the doctors of the law in the temple [Luke 2:46-47], the inspired author closes it with these words, “And Jesus went down with His parents, He 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 day after Christmas; after the glory and the ecstatic experiences of the angel announcement, and the adoration of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], and the worship of the wise men [Matthew 2:1-12], then for twelve years of silence in a little despised town named Nazareth, then the glorious experience of the Child with the doctors of the law in the temple in Jerusalem [Luke 2:46-47], then once again eighteen years down in Nazareth without word, without description, without knowledge, silence. And that gave rise in my heart to an experience that is universal in the faith; the religion of the letdown—after the glorious ecstasy, and wonder, and experience is spent and passed; the day after Christmas.
There is no doubt but that it is incomparably wonderful to live on the mountaintop, at the very gate of heaven. There is an old time song, and the chorus goes like this:
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 from a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah land.
[“Dwelling in Beulah Land,” C. Austin Miles]
That’s wonderful, glorious, ecstatic, heavenly, celestial; but it is always and inevitably followed by a valley, a coming down from the mountain, a letdown.
It is in every life and in every experience. You don’t stay on the mountaintop all the time. It isn’t Christmas every day. You don’t hear the angels singing every hour. The shepherds are not there adoring, and the wise men are not there, coming every day. There is always the aftermath of a comedown and a letdown.
I think of Elijah. There never was in the history of Israel so high an hour as when Elijah the Tishbite was on the top of Mt. Carmel. And in answer to prayer, fire fell from heaven [1 Kings 18:24, 36-38]. And in answer to prayer, rain fell from heaven [1 Kings 18:41-45]. And in answer to prayer, the whole nation was turned back from apostasy to God [1 Kings 18:39-40]. It was in an incomparable day! So much so that the prophet Elijah, in the wonder and glory and strength of that hour, ran eighteen miles in front of the chariot of Ahab, from Carmel down to Jezreel [1 Kings 18:46]. But there’s not anything that wears out the saints of God like running before the chariot of Ahab. And the next day Elijah was in the presence of Jezebel, and the next day under a juniper tree asking that he might die. From the top of Carmel, the very gate and wonder of heaven, down to a juniper tree in the Negev in the south, asking God that he might die[1 Kings 19:1-4]; the letdown.
The same experience you find in the story of the three apostles, Peter, James, and John, on the top of Mt. Transfiguration, looking at the glorified deity of Christ, whose face was as the shining sun, and His garments as white as snow, deity shining through His flesh. And Simon Peter said, “Let us stay here, what a wonderful place, what an incomparable glorious, celestial experience. Let us stay here” [Luke 9:28-33].
Then down into the valley and frustrated in unbelief because of their inability to heal a tormented and demented boy [Luke 9:37-42]; the letdown from the mountain to the valley. All of us experience that. A woman came to me who’d been gloriously converted, and she said, “The feeling is gone. The wonderful experience is just a memory. I don’t think I was really saved.”
“And Jesus went down with them, and came to Nazareth” [Luke 2:51]. If you ever visit Nazareth as a traveler, they will show you where Jesus doubtless lived; one of the humblest of all places in the earth. It is a cave. “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51], as any other little boy, growing up with the other children; in spite of the wonder and glory of Bethlehem, and the incomparable experiences of the nativity [Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:8-20], down there in a despised town, living in a humble home, growing up like any other child.
“And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51], and began to follow the drudgery of the work of the husband of Mary, His supposed father, Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter [Matthew 13:55], and as the Boy grew up into adolescence and finally into young manhood, He followed, He plied the same trade [Mark 6:3]. He worked with His hands, in the drudgery of everyday experience, with a hammer, with a saw, with a chisel. And He became known as the carpenter [Mark 6:3].
In the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Mark, when He came back to Nazareth after His anointing as the Messiah at His baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], and after the introduction of John the Baptist [John 1:29-36], when He came back and spoke so meaningfully and eloquently [Mark 6:2], the townspeople said, and I read, “Is not this the carpenter, the Son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us? And they were offended in Him” [Mark 6:3]. “Is not this the carpenter, a man who worked with His hands?”
After the glory of Bethlehem, after the visitation of God in the nativity [Luke 2:11-12], and after the angel’s song [Luke 2:13-14] and the wise men worship [Matthew 2:1-2, 11], then down to the drudgery of the hammer and the chisel and the saw, doing the work of a carpenter. But I ask you, was it any less divine, was it any less godly, was He any less deity working with His hands in the drudgery of the day than when He received the worship of angels [Luke 2:13-14], and of kings? [Hebrews 1:6]. Is not one as heavenly, as divine and celestial as the other?
I was in the West, on a Sunday, in a vacation time, and went to a little Baptist church in a little town nestled way up in the mountains. When I walked in and sat down, the pastor came out of the pulpit and said, “I cannot preach in your presence, you come up here and you bring the message this morning.” I said, “No, not at all, not at all. I’ve come here to worship God with you, and you have a message prepared; deliver it. You’ll not have in your little audience here a more sympathetic or prayerful listener than I.” He returned to his place in the little pulpit and delivered his message.
And after the service was over he came back to visit with me, and he said, “I have never been so embarrassed in my life, to preach in your presence.” He said, “I am an uneducated man, I’ve never been to school. I work with my hands and make a living for me and my little family. I am a carpenter.” He said, “I built this church. There was no church in this resort town, and I felt led of God to come. And I built this church with my hands. See that trailer,” he said, “on the back of the church lot? That’s our home, we live in that trailer.”
But he said, “I am ashamed of the message that I brought, for I am not studied, and I am not learned, and I am not taught, and I am not educated, and I’ve never been to school.”
I said, “Listen fellow, my Lord was a carpenter [Mark 6:3], and He worked with His hands.” I never worked with my hands in my life, nor could I have built that little church. I said to him, “You reach people I could never reach. And you preach to people I’ll never see. And I want you to know that as I sat in the audience this morning, I was blessed by your message from God.”
I do not say to you that the grammar was chaste or that the English was choice; but I am saying that God was in the man as deeply, as feelingly, as spiritually present and regnant as in any other great far-famed minister I’ve ever listened to. “And He went down to Nazareth” [Luke 2:51], and did the work of a carpenter; the drudgery of everyday’s life.
Now I want to apply that principle to two things. Religion in the letdown: how it is when the experience is spent and passed and life becomes prosaic and dull, and the assignments are ordinary, and sometimes the long hours are tedious and endless. I want to apply it to two things: one, to faith itself—to the Christian religion itself—and then I want to apply it to our work in building up the household of faith, the church of God.
First of all, to the faith itself; how it is when the first experience is passed, and we live in the backwater, the letdown. I don’t know a better way to illustrate it than to speak of the intensest expectancy of the first century Christians in the coming of Christ. One cannot read the New Testament but sense in it, in every syllable, in every word, in every verse; one cannot read it without sensing in it the intense expectancy of those early Christians for the soon return of the Lord.
They believed it. It was their great motivation. In their lifetime and in their days they expected the Lord Christ to appear. They wrote of it, they prayed for it, they believed in it, and it was their great dynamic in the evangelization of the world. The first century Christians expected, fully and deeply, the return of Christ in their day, and the revolution of the whole created world in the new order under His messianic leadership.
The century passed, and He didn’t come. Five hundred years passed, and He didn’t come. A thousand years passed, and He didn’t come. A thousand five hundred years passed, and now almost two thousand years passed, and He hasn’t come. And from the informal discussion of one of the world-famed theologians of our day, I copy his exact words, quote: “The expectation of a second coming, has not that expectation proved to be a failure also? 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, take His great 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 not be fulfilled. They were mistaken, those early Christians. They were mistaken about this.”
I am reminded of 2 Peter chapter 3:
There shall come in the last days scoffers . . . saying, Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.
[2 Peter 3:3-4]
There is no sign, there is no bursting of the sky, no rolling back of the heavens like a scroll, there is no appearance of Jesus. And after two thousand years every day confirms the promise is futile, and vain, and void; religion in the letdown. Religion after the first intensest experiences passed, then the years, and the years, and the years of plodding, and drudgery, and waiting, and waiting, and believing, just trusting.
What of that? As most of you know, in this pulpit for forty-seven years stood the greatest prince that our Baptist people have ever produced, George W. Truett. And when someone would go to Mother Truett and say to that sweet humble little woman, “You know your son George, what a marvelous far-famed preacher is he!” And Mother Truett would always reply, “But have you heard my son, Jim?”
Apparently, her favorite child was Jim, who also was a preacher here in Texas and in Oklahoma, and in his latter years retired and spent the rest of his life in Whitewright, a little town northeast of Dallas. And in the declining years of Jim Truett, every morning he would go to the window in the house that faced east, raise the shade, and as the sun arose he would stand there and say, “Perhaps today He will come.”
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]
Waiting, trusting, believing, after the first, intensest experience is passed; religion in the letdown, in the drudgery of every day’s work and worship.
Now may I apply that to our work in the church and in the building of the household of faith? There is nothing worthwhile that is not attained and accomplished by drudgery. It would be glorious if our work could be up in some celestial world all the time, before the plaudits of the throngs and the crowds, before all the encouragement of the applause, before the eyes of appreciation and adornment. Oh, what a wonderful way to work! Out there in the public, sensing the thrill of the throng, oh! what a glorious thing. But it never comes that way, and it’s never done that way, and it’s never achieved that way, never! There is nothing worthwhile that is ever done apart from labor and work and plain drudgery.
If somebody sings and does it beautifully, they practice, and practice, and practice, and practice, days and years they practice. If somebody plays the piano beautifully—with accomplishment, with technique splendid—they achieve such a touch and such a presentation with years of drudgery, and drudgery, and drudgery, and drudgery; practicing, and practicing, and practicing. The dullest kind of work, somewhere by themselves playing, and playing, and playing—no throng there, no applause there, no crowd there—just the drudgery of staying with it day after day. It is so with an athlete. There is no athlete that excels who does not expend untold time and energy preparing, preparing, training, getting ready.
That’s even true in a horse race. One time, when I was a student in Kentucky, I drove over to Lexington to see Man o’ War; never saw such horseflesh in my life. Now I’m no connoisseur of horses, but he impressed me. That big, red bay stallion, I never saw a horse like that. He looked the part. You know what I did? Man o’ War never lost a race except one time when a jockey purposely held him back; I suppose the greatest race horse that was ever foaled, Man o’ War. Upon a day I put together the entire time of the entire life of Man o’ War’s experience of racing and running on the track. And when I added it up, it did not come to thirty minutes. It was less than thirty minutes; the years and the years of that glorious stallion, without peer, without rival, training, training, training; but his actual running, less than thirty minutes in a lifetime.
There’s not anything but is like that; if a physician excels, the years through the university, the years through the medical school, the years through interning in the hospital, and the years of specializing. And that is true in a minister of God. You can pretty well tell the depths of a man’s consecration in his willingness to prepare for what he does. To study, and to study, and to prepare, and to prepare; and without the discipline and the drudgery there is no excelling.
And that is no less true in the work of the Lord in the church. It is the staying with it, it is the continuing continuity; it is the willing to keep on when maybe the first glorious experience is passed and spent! But here we are, just the same, working just the same, every day, every month, and through the years.
I think of our mission program and especially because of this season of the year. At Christmas time we have a beautiful banquet down here, and we invite the boys and girls from our seven missions to come for a beautiful dinner. And then we have Santa Claus, and then we give each one of the children a present.
I was down here and seated between two of those mission children. The little fellow on my side to my left was named Randy, and beyond him was his older sister. And Santa Claus stood up and called his name. And the little fellow didn’t quite know what to do, so the little girl, his sister, said, “Randy, Randy, they’ve called your name! Hold up your hand, Randy, hold it up high! They’ve called your name!” So Randy held up his hand, and went up and got his present.
And the little boy on my right turned to me, when Randy left, and said, “Will they call my name? And will I get a present?” I said, “Son, if nobody calls your name, I’ll stand up there and call it myself. And if you don’t have a present, I’ll go out and buy you one. Yes, yes.” Oh! What a time; sweet and precious, with those mission children.
But, is it just at Christmas time they might get hungry? And is it just at Christmas time that in the name of Christ we seek to minister to them? What about January? And what about February? And what about March? And what about the twelve months of the year and the three hundred and sixty-five days? The church to me is not a club! And the club at Thanksgiving time, out with baskets of fruit and food, and at Christmas time a remembrance; but what about the rest of the year? To me the glory and the strength of the church lies in its continuing ministries among those missions.
We’re at it today in all seven of those chapels. And we’ll be at it tomorrow, and every day of the week; that honors God! I know it is commonplace, and I know it smacks of drudgery and labor, but that’s God. And the Lord is in it just as much in January as at Christmas time; in February as in Thanksgiving time. It honors God—staying with it—the continuity continuousness of our service to Him.
It is so in the worship of the Lord here in this church. I don’t deny that I look forward to these tremendous convocations of our people. We have revivals, we have retreats, we have unusual services. We put glamour and glitter in it sometimes. We even deck the halls with holly. Is that holly around here? Whatever it is we even deck it out. That’s fine, and I like it, thrilled by it, love it.
But the great fundamental primary work of the church is not found in these special occasions; it is found in the every day’s faithfulness. Coming here Sunday by Sunday, teaching in these classes, sitting at the feet of the Lord before this open Bible, singing, preparing, glorifying God; worshiping in union, in assembly, in the work of the church, its so many faceted parts—that is as much an honor to God, and in its actual building up, more basic and fundamental, than these glorious special occasions when we seek to shine for Jesus.
That’s true in our giving program; many of our people make special gifts upon special occasions. We need it. I thank God for it. I thank you for what you do, supporting in a special way some special cause. But I do say that the great life stream and fundamental foundation of the life of our church lies in that great throng of people who, Sunday by Sunday, lay aside on the first day of the week those dedicated gifts as God has prospered them [1 Corinthians 16:2]. It is plodding. It is work. It is labor. It is staying with it that really, marvelously, gloriously, inevitably builds up the household of faith and the church of God.
In Calcutta I asked, “Where can I see and visit the tomb of William Carey, and where could I see his work?” And they told me that eighteen miles up the big river, at Serampore, there you will find Carey College, named for him, and there you will find in the library—his work—and on the campus you will find his grave. So I went eighteen miles up the river to Serampore, there to visit the college and look at the work and especially the library of William Carey.
The library impressed me beyond anything that I could have thought for. I knew something, of course, of the work of the great missionary from England. But I never dreamed of the extent of it. In that library were books, and books, and books, and books, written by his hand. There were dictionaries of the language, there were lexicons of the language; there were half a dozen different languages. He had made available the gospel of Christ to more than 300 million people, and there were shelves and shelves and shelves of his translations. He was a genius at semantics; he was a genius in language. I don’t think there’s ever lived anybody like him, William Carey. Ben Johnson wrote one dictionary of the English language. You’ll find half a dozen in foreign dialects, and tongues, and languages created by William Carey in that library at Serampore.
Now I want you to look at this. In his age, William Carey was talking one day to his biographer. And this is what he said, and I copied it word for word, William Carey 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 the biographer 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.
Don’t you wish, perhaps––or do you?––don’t you wish that when you come before God, when you join the church, don’t you wish that you could bring with you a train of galaxies? “Look at me, here I am, how I shine. And how everything about me and mine scintillates, it brightens, it glows. It lives. Here I am, Lord, look what I bring to Thee.” Perhaps, maybe, but, in my humble judgment, I think those best glorify God who come before the Lord and said, “Lord, maybe not much, but what I have I dedicate to Thee.” Not a comet, not a star, not a sun, not a galaxy; just somebody me. And Lord, if faithfulness will count, or if praying will do, or if a humble service will bless, glorify, encourage, strengthen, or help, here I am, Lord, I’m coming.
John Milton, because of the intensity of his work under Oliver Cromwell, John Milton was going blind at forty years of age. Do you remember his sonnet on his blindness? Starts like this:
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, and present
My true account…
[“Sonnet XIX: When I Consider How My Light is Spent,” John Milton]
As he pours out his heart to God in his blindness, and do you remember how God answers in that sonnet? The last verse: “They also serve,” God says to the blind poet, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
We don’t have to shine like geniuses, nor scintillate like stars in the sky, nor do we have to be exalted above our brethren to have a place and a part—and a worthy one—in the ministry and service of Jesus. Come just as you are, with whatever endowment or gift God has placed in your hands, and the faithfulness of it, and the trustfulness of it, the loving tender devotion of it, God will sanctify and bless forever.
Will you? Will you? In the balcony round, you, on the lower floor, you, a family, a couple or just you, while we sing the appeal, while we press the invitation, will you answer with your life? “Here I am, pastor, and here I come. I make it now. I make it today.” There’s a stairwell on either side of the balcony at the front and at the back. There’s time and to spare. If you’re on that last seat in the topmost balcony, come. On the lower floor, into that aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor. I make it now.” Make the decision in your heart. Do it now, and in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming. Angels will attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.