Twas the Day After Christmas
December 26th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-26-76 10:50 a.m.
Once again it is a privilege from heaven, something God has given to us, to welcome you who are sharing this hour with the people of the First Baptist Church in Dallas on radio and on television. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled ‘Twas the Day After Christmas or Religion in the Letdown.
“And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: and His mother kept all of these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” [Luke 2:51-52]. What a beautiful story from heaven itself—the star [Matthew 2:1-2], and the angel chorus [Luke 2:13], and the sublime announcement, the worship of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-20], and the coming of the wise men with their beautiful and precious gifts [Matthew 2:1, 9-12]. Then, for twelve long years there is absolute, impenetrable silence.
Then a remarkable story of the visit of the Christ Child at twelve years of age in the temple in Jerusalem [Luke 2:42-50]—followed by eighteen years of absolute silence [Luke 3:23]. ‘Twas the day after Christmas, when the angels are gone and the stars have faded away, when the wise men have returned to their homes, and the shepherds are back at their assignment, keeping watch over their flocks, when Christmas Day is past, and the stars and the songs and the angels are memories, and we come back down to the daily humdrum of life; religion in the let-down.
It is a wonderful thing, these ecstatic experiences that we have with God. There is no one who has ever been saved but that remembers that precious and beautiful experience. And there is no one in this earthly pilgrimage but who has mountaintop experiences. And we are happy for them. They are glorious. They raise us up to the very heights of heaven. We can just hear the angels sing. It is a marvelous thing to have a wonderful experience with God.
I am living on the mountain
Underneath a cloudless sky.
I am drinking at the fountain
That shall never run dry.
I am feasting on the manna,
What a bountiful supply,
For I am dwelling in Beulah land.
[“Dwelling in Beulah Land,” C. Austin Miles, 1911]
Hallelujah, glory to God, praise His name. Amen. Happy in the Lord. But there are always dull, dry, dreary days that follow those ecstatic experiences. They just do. They just come.
All of us remember Elijah who on top of Mt. Carmel gathered all of those false prophets together, prayed for the fire to come down, and the flaming presence of God burned up the sacrifice [1 Kings 18:24, 37-38]. And Elijah was in the ninth state of glory and praise. And then in answer to his prayer, it began to rain after three and a half years of unspeakable drought [1 Kings 18:41-45; James 5:17-18]. And in keeping with the glory of the hour, Elijah ran before the chariot of Ahab, all the way from Carmel to Jezreel, thirty miles [1 Kings 18:46]. But there is not anything in the earth that will wear out the saint like running before the chariot of Ahab. And he heard the word of Jezebel, and fled for his life, and finally under a juniper tree, said, “O God, let me die” [1 Kings 19:2-4]. Can you imagine that? Just from the height of Mt. Carmel, and the fire falling from heaven [1 Kings 18:38], and the rain after three and a half years [1 Kings 18:41-45], followed by his flight and his prayer that he might die, that God would take his life from the earth [1 Kings 19:2-4].
All of us remember the story of the transfiguration of Christ, when He took with Him the three disciples of that inner circle—Peter, James, and John. And the deity of our Lord shone through the veil of His flesh. And Moses on one side, and Elijah on the other side, were talking to Him about the great atonement He should make for the sins of the world [Luke 9:28-31]. And when those three disciples saw it, they said, “Lord, Lord, Lord, what a day! What an hour! What an experience! Let’s stay here! Let’s build a house for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah [Luke 9:33]. Let’s just live on the mountaintop.” But immediately it is followed by the story of the disciples as He came down into the valley and then their frustration and defeat at being unable to cast out an evil spirit in a boy that was tormented by it [Mark 9:14-29].
Don’t you just wish you could stay up there on that mount? Look at Moses, think of the thousand questions you would like to ask him. Or Elijah, there is another thousand questions you would like to ask him. And to look upon the glory of the transfigured face of our Lord! [Luke 9:29]. But always that valley, and always that tormented family, and always that cry of need down there on the plain.
There is a dear, wonderful woman in this church. She was converted in a marvelous experience and was ecstatic and happy in the Lord. Then, of course, the days followed after. And she came to me and said, “I don’t think I have been really saved, all of that fine and holy feeling has passed away, and I am just flat. I am just down, and I don’t think I was really saved.” How she needs to understand.
“And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]. This is after Christmas, after the star [Matthew 2:1-2], after the angel [Luke 2:9], after the angelic chorus [Luke 2:13], after the visit of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], after the coming of the wise men [Matthew 2:1], after the presentation of those beautiful gifts [Matthew 2:11], after the marvel of the Christmas story—there He is down to Nazareth. Have you ever been there where they say Jesus lived as a child? It is a cave. It is a den. How poor, poor, poor. Have you been to the place where they say he had His carpenter shop? [Mark 6:1-3]. Poor, poor, poor; indescribably poor.
“And He was subject unto them,” just doing the menial tasks that His mother and father would assign Him. “And He went down to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]. And they say that He made ox yokes. I couldn’t imagine a thing more drab than that, to make ox yokes. Yet tradition is universal in saying He made ox yokes. And for thirty years, for thirty years, for thirty years—He never lived but to be thirty-three years of age—for thirty years, He was at a carpenter’s bench in a humble place which looked like a cave to me, doing a menial task with a chisel, with a hammer, with a saw, with a plane, nailing a piece of wood, shaping it and forming it. How humble His life for so long!
And that gives me the Word from God, from the Lord, that the Jesus-kind of religion and the God-kind of religion has in it deep valleys and vast plains, that there is no such thing in this life and in this pilgrimage of staying on the mountaintop. It’s a religion of the humdrum. It is a religion of the ordinary. It is a religion of the minutiae. It is a religion of waiting, of patience, of doing humble and menial tasks. It is a religion of waiting, and praying, and studying, and preparing. It is a religion of infinite patience.
Now, I want to apply that in two areas of our religious life. First, in the area of our faith; our faith before God is so many times one of just ordinary and patient waiting. It is not one of heavenly ecstasy all the time. It is one of just living a quiet and humble and patient life before the Lord.
And in the choice of how I could illustrate that in our lives—the patient waiting of faith—I could think of none better than the promise of the return of the Lord. And the reason that is so poignantly laid upon my heart is because in my reading of the New Testament—and if anybody reads the New Testament, you will have the immediate sense that all of those New Testament Christians in that first generation believed devoutly that Jesus was coming back to earth in their lifetime.
You run across it all the time. Let a man who’s married be as though he is not married, wrote Paul. Let a man who’s not married be as though he is married, said Paul, for the time is at hand. The Lord is coming. And however you are, just be happy in that assignment, for Jesus is coming soon [Philippians 4:5; James 5:8]. “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is that man that keeps the words of this prophecy” [Revelation 22:7]. The whole message is like that.
When you read the New Testament, you immediately sense on the part of all of those first-century Christians, that Jesus was coming in their lifetime. That’s why 1 and 2 Thessalonians were written. Paul preached to them that Jesus was coming soon [1 Thessalonians 5:1-2]. And he went away on his missionary journey, and at Athens, they sent word to him saying, “You say Jesus is coming soon, but some of our members have died and the Lord has not come back. What of these who have died?” [1 Thessalonians 4:13]. And in answer to that question he wrote 1 Thessalonians [1 Thessalonians 4:14-18]. And in answer to the question about how it is that the Lord is coming, he wrote 2 Thessalonians [2 Thessalonians 2:1]. There is no doubt about it. Anyone can sense it when you read the New Testament. These first-century Christians expected Jesus to return in their lifetime.
But He didn’t come. Nor did He come in the second century. Nor did He come in the third century. Nor did He come in the tenth century. Nor did He come in the nineteenth century. And He hasn’t come in our twentieth century. And what about that heavenly promise that Paul calls “the blessed hope?” [Titus 2:13]. Well, I can tell you, there are great theologians by the uncounted numbers who say that that is a fantasy now, that we would ever really expect the return of the Lord. Now, I’m going to copy for you, I have copied for you, and I shall read the word of one of the great theologians of our modern generation. I quote from him. Listen to him:
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.
And that’s what Peter said in the third chapter of his second letter. “There shall come in the latter days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, ‘Where is the promise of His coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things have continued as they were from the beginning of the creation’” [2 Peter 3:3-4]—a vain and a futile hope. So full of expectancy and so believing that the Lord would come in their day—but there’s no coming and nothing left but futile despair.
What do you think of that? That’s why I have chosen that promise as the best illustration I could find about the patient waiting of our faith in the Lord. He hasn’t come. And He hasn’t come for two thousand years. And they were so full of expectancy that He would come in their lifetime. And we’re taught to live in the imminency of our Lord. Any day, any hour, did the Lord teach us to watch and to wait [Matthew 24:42, 25:13].
So what is it then—that we give ourselves to this infidel despair, represented by this enemy of the true faith of Christ, represented by that theologian? No, we shall continue to believe, continue to wait, continue to watch, continue to pray, continue to expect He will someday intervene in this endless chain of death, and the grave, and sin, and wrong. Someday, He will come, and the world will be right, and these that are fallen asleep in Jesus will be raised, and we all shall live in His sight [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. We shall continue to wait on the Lord.
Dr. Truett was the pastor of this dear church for forty-seven years—the greatest preacher, pulpiteer that our Baptist people in America has ever produced. He had a brother named Jim. And I’ve been told many times that when someone would come up to Mother Truett, who lived in Whitewright, Texas, when someone would come up to Mother Truett and say, “Oh, that great preacher, George W., how you must be proud of that world-famed prince of the pulpit, George W.!” She would always say, “Oh, yes, oh, yes. But have you heard my son Jim? Do you know my son Jim? Have you heard Jim preach?” That was her other preacher boy, Jim. I went to visit with him one time before the Lord called him home. I went to visit with him in these years past and was blessed by that godly and sainted man, Jim Truett.
And they told me that every morning, every morning, Jim Truett, when he arose from his bed, would go to the room where there was a window facing the east, and he would raise the shade. And as he looked at the sun rise in the dawn of the morning, he would say, “Perhaps, today, He will come. Perhaps, today, He will come.” What a beautiful and precious illustration of the faith that waits upon the Lord!
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 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 into 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.”
[“Coming,” published in “The Friend,” Vol LXII, 1889]
As we journey down the pilgrimage of this life, just a few more shadows, and He will come. The faith that waits upon the Lord—after the ecstasy and after the high transfiguration and after the experience on the mount, just patiently waiting in the faith and the promise of the Lord; maybe not see it in our lifetime, maybe not, but the promise in Him is everlastingly “Yea, and Amen” [2 Corinthians 1:20]. He will surely, surely come.
Now may I apply this message from God’s Book, may I apply it to our work? First, it was to our faith—just waiting, patiently waiting; and after the work, “And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them” [Luke 2:51]. And for the years and the years and the years, He gave Himself to the menial tasks of the work of a carpenter. So with the building of the church; it is done in the patient labor of those who plod and who continue and who persevere. So far as I know, there is no other way by which we can excel in our work but by patient plodding, doing the humdrum things, the repetitive things, sometimes the dull, dry, dreary things.
Take one of these girls like Beverly who stands up here and sings. How do you do that? You do it by training, and by practicing, and by singing, and by singing, and by repeated practice and singing—time, time, time spent learning to sing. Or take any one of these musicians. How do they play? Just come here and play? No, by practicing and learning—the dull, dreary hours of just going over those notes, going over those scales, going over those songs, going over that melody and that music, just over and over and over again. So it is with an athlete. If he excels, he’s a fellow who trains and tries and practices.
Even in the animal world it is like that. Mrs. C and I one time went to see Man-o’-War in Lexington, Kentucky. That’s the noblest beast I ever looked upon in my life. He looked like a monarch, like a king; one of the greatest racers in all history. And yet, when you put together all of the time in the lifetime of Man-o’-War that he ran, it doesn’t amount to thirty minutes. The race would be over in a minute. It would be over in two minutes. It would be over in three minutes. It would be over in thirty seconds or a half a minute or a minute and a half.
That’s the way life is. It is that dull drudgery of studying, of trying, of practicing, that makes it possible for us to excel. I think of a physician. Dear me, I’d hate for a man to cut me open and gouge around in my gizzard unless he’d spent a lot of time studying and getting ready for it. Ah, ah! Years at school; years in internship; years under the surveillance of another physician and surgeon, it takes time, and time, and time, and time to prepare for the work, dull and drudgery time.
Same way with a preacher; how does a preacher stay in the pulpit and preach to the same people year after year after year after year? I’ll tell you how. When he chains himself to that desk, and opens those books, and he slaves over them by day and by night. He studies, and he prepares, and he prays, and he studies, and he prepares, and he prays. And he gives his life to it.
It is thus in the building of a church. I wish it were all ecstasy. I wish it were always on the mountaintop. I wish it were always the finest, highest, sweetest experiences that we could ever know under God. But the church is just not built that way. There are great plains in it. There are great areas in it. There are great endless times in it when it is a matter of patience, and of plodding, of just staying with it, of just persevering in it.
I think of our mission program. They have beautiful things down here for our missions at Thanksgiving and at Christmas. And when I look at it, I rejoice in it, so glad. One time we had a big Christmas dinner here, with a Christmas tree and presents for all of our mission children. Santa Claus came in. And he called out the name of a little boy. and his sister said, “Randy, hold up your hand. Randy, they called your name. Hold up your hand! Hold it high!” And the little boy on this side of me, seated next to me, he said, “Mister, would they call my name—do you think they’ll call my name and would he have a present for me?” I said, “Yes, son. They will, you just wait. They’ll call your name.”
And when I look at that, I think, isn’t that beautiful and precious and dear and has the spirit of Christmas in it. But I also think of something else. The difference between our church and a club is, that the club will remember these poor at Thanksgiving and have a basket or a present for these people at Christmas time. But you know how we do it? We do it three hundred sixty-five days out of every year. For they not only get hungry in November and December, they get hungry also in January and February. And they are not only cold at the beginning of the winter, they are cold all through the winter.
And we have ten chapels in our church. And we minister to those people every day out of the year. While I am preaching here, there is a preacher in ten of those chapels who are preaching at the same time. And when I’m on my busy journey, trying to be a good shepherd to the flock, there are ten of those preachers who are out there doing the same thing, every day of the year. That’s the kind of religion I like; not just upon a stated occasion, but every day of the year, trying to serve Jesus in some humble and God-blessed way.
Same way about our services; we have revival meetings, and we have retreats, and we have convocations, and we have special gatherings. And in them we are just so lifted up and happy. And we just love God all over again. But you know, the great energy and strength of the church is found in our stated gatherings—coming here to worship the Lord, sitting down in our Sunday school classes, studying God’s Book, gathering in our unions and our mission groups, just carrying on God’s work through the years and the years and the years.
Same way about our offerings; we have some of the most sublime appeals, and our people answer so marvelously. We have one coming up. On the way to church this morning, walking from the parking lot, two of our fine members said to me, “Pastor, look at that Mary C Building. Just look at that. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?” And then he said, “Just thinking about two or three more weeks, we shall dedicate it.” And I said, “Yes, sir. And we’re going to have the biggest offering on that dedication the world ever saw. I’m going to try to raise two-and-a-half million dollars. I announced I was going to raise a million-and-a- half. Man, I have forgotten that. I am going to raise two-and-a-half million dollars in that special offering.” We are just going to have the best time down here you ever saw in your life. And all of us are going to respond. It is going to be a marvelous thing, a happy thing, a glorious thing. We’re going to dedicate that building, debt-free, please God.
And then we are going to have some over in order to lift the heavy burden of indebtedness on our church. It is going to be a marvelous thing and a triumphant thing! God’s going to do it for us. It will be the best offering we have ever made. And I rejoice in it. And I am happy about it. And it moves my heart to thanksgiving to God when I contemplate it, but at the same time, I know that the very life stream of our church is not in any special offering. It lies in the Sunday by Sunday, on the first day of the week, dedicating to God, as the Lord has prospered us [1 Corinthians 16:2]; offering to Him a gift and dedicating to Him a tithe [Malachi 3:10], Sunday by Sunday by Sunday by Sunday as long as I live, coming in the presence of the Lord with a gift, with an offering in my hand. Just that dull, dreary, humdrum thing of coming down here, every Sunday, having something in my hand, a tithe and an offering for the Lord: that’s what builds the strength of the church.
So with all of our work; it is our plodders who build it. It is our dedicated, faithful people, who loving God when they’re down as well as when they are up, serving God when they are ecstatic, also when they are discouraged; faithful to the Lord when they are motivated and inspired but no less serving the Lord when they are weary and tired and it has lost so much of its enticement and aura—just staying with it.
I was wonderfully blessed in Calcutta, India, looking at the work of William Carey, our first great missionary and the father of modern missions. And I went out to Serampore, which is about eighteen miles up the river from Calcutta; walked around the William Carey College that he founded. And there in the library looked at the work of that man. He was a very small man, I suppose, not five feet tall. But all of those languages into which he translated the Bible and all of those lexicons that he had made for those languages, I don’t see how one man could have done so much. He was one of the great linguists of all time; and the tedium of that work, and the vastness of it, I just couldn’t believe such a thing.
One day he was speaking to his biographer. And then I quote from William Carey:
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 a pursuit. To this, I owe everything.
He’s buried right there beyond the main building on that Christian campus. And I stood there at his tomb, and I read the inscription that he had them place on the tomb. It is this, “A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arm I fall.” This is one of the men that God used so mightily. The vast energy of the modern missionary movement began in the dedication of that man. And so he says, “If a man says of me more than this, he’s incorrect. All he can say of me is I can plod.” And the humility expressed in that incised word over his grave, “A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall,”
Lord, Lord, Lord God, give me that kind of a religion. One that not only loves Thee in the up-ness of life, in the triumphs of life, on the mountain peaks of life, in the ecstasies of life, but Lord, give me a faith and a commitment that will serve Thee no less in the valleys of life and on the plains and plateaus of life, when sometimes I lack motivation and inspiration—but just plodding along; serving the Lord in some humble place, however God may choose it for me and for us. The day after Christmas, when the angels are gone, and the stars don’t shine, and the wise men have returned to their home; faithfully waiting, and faithfully following, and faithfully serving till He come, till He come.
Our time is far spent, and we’re going to stand to sing our hymn, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or one somebody you to give himself to Jesus or to put his life in the fellowship of our dear church, while we sing the hymn, would you make the decision and come? Down a stairway on either side at the front and the back, and there’s time and to spare, in the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles and down to the front, “Pastor, I have made my decision. I have given my heart to God and I’m coming.” Or, “I’m putting my life with you in this dear church.” Answer, if God speaks and the Lord calls, on the first note of that first stanza, come. Do it now. Make it now. Come now, while we stand and while we sing.