Twas the Day After Christmas
December 26th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
‘TWAS THE DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Luke 2:39, 51
12-26-82 10:50 a.m.
And a thousand times welcome to the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message entitled ‘Twas the Day After Christmas. Being December 26, the day after Christmas, it came to my heart that this would be an appropriate time to deliver a message about something that is so characteristic of our daily Christian lives. It is a sermon on religion in the letdown, religion after the high mountaintop experience is over. It is a sermon on the fact that nobody can live up on a mountaintop all the time. We always and inevitably come down to the valley. And this message concerns that great spiritual truth that I find in the Word of God. Now before I continue, may I ask Mayo, that operator there, you pull that thing over to your right a little bit, because I cannot see those people right down that aisle there, and I like to look at them when I am preaching. Thank you, God bless you for doing it.
The sermon is taken out of the second chapter of the Book of Luke; and it will concern verses 39 and 51 of Luke chapter 2. The first two chapters of Luke describe the miraculous, marvelous, heavenly birth of Jesus our Lord. The first part of it in chapter 2 describes the angels’ announcement to the shepherds and their coming to see the newborn Savior of the world [Luke 2:8-16]. Now look at verse 39: after they had gone to the temple to dedicate the little Lad [Luke 2:21-38], and after all the singing was over, it says, "They returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth" [Luke 2:39]. And for twelve years, there is nothing but silence and drudgery and daily commonplace living. After twelve years, there is an unusual incident described of the Lord Jesus as He was taken to the temple in Jerusalem, and the unusual presentation of the brilliance and scriptural, spiritual understanding of the twelve year old Boy [Luke 2:41-50]. Now verse 51: "And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them" [Luke 2:51]; and for the next eighteen years, there is nothing but silence and commonplace drudgery; religion in the letdown, religion after the great experience.
There is not anything in history, in literature, in song, in lyric, in Scripture that is more scintillating and brilliant than the story of the birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 2:1-7]. It is so dramatic that once a year the entire world is moved in the splendor of a Christmas season. The angels, the heavens open, the hosts of glory, the worship of the shepherds [Luke 2:8-16], the coming of the wise men [Matthew 2:1-12], all of it is dramatic in the extreme. But after that was over, and the angels’ song was ended, and the host is back up in glory [Luke 2:13-15], twelve years of living in silence; and then after that one incident in the temple at Jerusalem [Luke 2:41-47], eighteen years of common drudgery as a carpenter [Mark 6:3].
There is no doubt but that all of us know mountaintop experiences in the Lord. The day we were saved, the day we were delivered from such an incident as some of us could describe, so many things in our lives are just marvelous; they are wonderful. But they are not marvelous and wonderful all the time. It’s glorious to have mountaintop experiences, standing at the very gate of heaven, like the song:
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.
[ from "Dwelling in Beulah Land," C. Austin Miles]
That’s great; marvelous experiences, mountaintop experiences, just in the presence of God Himself. But every day is not like that. And we don’t stay on the heights forever. Not every day do we hear the angels sing, nor do we see the hosts of heaven where the gates of glory are open wide. We come down out of that mountain, and we come down into the cleft of the valley; and most of our lives is lived in the common, ordinary humdrum of daily existence.
I think it is a parable, the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. All Israel gathered around him, and the prophets of Baal, four hundred fifty [1 Kings 18:22], and the prophets of Asherah, Astarte, four hundred [1 Kings 18:19], and the altar built [1 Kings 18:32], and Elijah prays, and God’s fire falls from heaven on the sacrifice [1 Kings 18:36-38]. Then the prophet kneels again and prays, and a drought that had extended over three years and six months is broken with an abundance of rain [1 Kings 18:42, 45; James 5:17-18]. And we see the prophet Elijah running before the chariot of Ahab, from Carmel to Jezreel, about thirty miles [1 Kings 18:46]. But there’s not anything that wears out the saints of God like running before the chariot of Ahab. You don’t stay in that high exalted state forever [1 Kings 18:19-46]. And the next thing we read about Elijah is he is running for his life, and lying down under a juniper tree, asked God that he might die [1 Kings 19:1-4]. You don’t stay up there forever; you come down and know the daily, common, ordinary existence of the assignments of human life. All of us come down.
I think it no less a parable, those three disciples, Peter, James, and John, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the deity of the Lord shown through His human flesh, and He looked like God Himself. And as the disciples looked upon the transfigured appearance of our Lord, whose countenance shone like the sun, Simon Peter said, "Lord, this is great! This is marvelous! Lord, let’s stay here. Let’s build a tabernacle for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah, and let’s stay on the mountaintop" [Luke 9:28-33]. You don’t stay on the mountaintop. The immediate verses, they’re down there in the valley, and the disciples, the apostles, are discouraged: they can’t cast out a demon out of a demented boy, and they are blue, and they are cast down [Luke 9:37-45]. Now isn’t that life? You don’t stay up there forever; you just don’t. You come down into the valley and sometimes into the very nadir of discouragement.
Well, if we look upon and interpret our religious faith as being only one that supports a vast, high, holy, heavenly experience, then most of us are sort of lost or behind or forgotten; we drag in our spiritual lives. I heard a man testify saying that when he was saved, he was lifted up; his heart was filled with glory and song and heavenly rapture. But he said he had lost all of that feeling and now had come to the conclusion that he wasn’t saved at all; he didn’t know the Lord at all. I can understand his testimony. If I interpret my relationship with God and my religious experience as only a mountaintop truth, and if I don’t stay on that mountaintop, then I’ve lost the truth, I’ve lost the experience, I’ve lost my salvation, I’ve lost my relationship with God if I’m not up there all the time; if I interpret my faith and my religious experience like that, then I can understand why I might conclude, "You know, I don’t think I’ve been saved after all. I don’t know the Lord after all." But life isn’t like that. Jesus, after the marvel and wonder of His glorious birth [Matthew 2:1-12; Luke 2:7-16], went down to Nazareth [Luke 2:39], and for twelve years lived in solitary silence.
Have you ever been to Nazareth? I know T. Bob Davis this morning has a guest with him who’s a Palestinian Arab. Have you been over there? If you go to Nazareth, they’ll show you where Jesus lived. It was a cave. Then they’ll show you where He worked as a carpenter; it’s another cave. It’s about as poor and lowly and humble as you could imagine. That’s where He lived for the first twelve years of His life. And then after that one incident, for eighteen years He worked as a carpenter in silence, in daily drudgery [Mark 6:3].
That to me is the poignancy of the story that I read in chapter  of the Gospel of Mark, the second Gospel. Our Lord, after His baptism both in water and after the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him, filled with the Spirit of God [Mark 1:9-11]; He returned to His city of Nazareth; and when they looked at Him and saw the glory of God in His face, and when they listened to Him and heard the words of heaven from His lips, they said one to another, "Is not this the carpenter? How is it that He has these marvelous words to say, and how is it that He does these marvelous deeds?" [Mark 6:1-3]. Why, one of them says – and I can hear him – "I have a chair made by Him!" I can hear another one say, "And I have a table made by Him!" And possibly another one would say, "And I live in a house made by Him! Is not this a carpenter?" You see, it’s mighty easy to be persuaded that those mountaintop experiences is real religion, but the humdrum of daily existence, and daily labor, and daily toil, and daily work, that is not of God, that’s something else – and that’s not true. That’s not so. Our daily tasks are just as acceptable in the sight of God, and just as pure and holy and meaningful to the God who lives and watches us from heaven. Our daily tasks are just as meaningful as those high experiences that we have once in a while on the mountaintop, and just as acceptable in His sight.
Do you remember the story that I told you one time? I was in the West, in a pioneer state. And on a Sunday, the host with whom I was staying and I went to church, in that pioneer Western state. It was a little frame church, made out of wood. And when the pastor learned that I was there, he came to me, and said, "I can’t preach in your presence. Please, won’t you take this pulpit, and deliver God’s message today? I am an unlearned man," he said, "I’ve never been to school. I’m a daily workman, and I can’t preach and you sit out there in the audience."
I said, "Listen, my brother, you’ll not have a more faithful or sympathetic or prayerful listener than I. Now you stand up there, and you deliver God’s message. And I’ll be lifting you up in intercession."
And after the service was over, he visited with me, and he took me outside the church, and he said, "You see this trailer at the back of the church? That’s where I live; that’s my home." He said to me, "I am a carpenter. I work with my hands; I make my living with my hands." And he said, "I take my trailer to a town in the West, where there’s not any church, and I buy a lot, and I put my trailer on the lot. Then," he said, "with my own hands I build a church house." And he says, "I visit the people. And I win them to the Lord, and I organize my converts into a church. And then after the church is started, then I go to another place and ask them to call a pastor, while I do the same thing in another town. But," he said, "I have never been to school. I’ve never been trained. I’m not an educated man. I just work with my hands as a carpenter." Then he said, "I want to apologize to you for preaching, trying to preach, in your presence, unlearned as I am."
I said to him, "My brother, that’s the last thing in the world that you need to do – is to apologize for your work and your ministry. For one thing," I said to him, "I couldn’t build this house. I’m not gifted in working with my hands. I wouldn’t know how to start to commence to begin to build the church house. I’m not a carpenter." And I said, "God has given you a precious and a wonderful ministry, one that I do not have; but God has given to you. It’s beautiful, what you’re doing." And then I added, "And my brother, we don’t forget our Lord was a carpenter, and He worked with His hands [Mark 6:3]. And the work of His hands as a carpenter was as holy and as acceptable to God as the work of His hands when He touched the eyes of the blind [Matthew 9:27-30] and healed the sick [Luke 4:38-40] and raised the dead" [John 11:39-44]. It is we who make these false distinctions between what’s great, and good, and holy, and high, and what is common and humdrum and ordinary. We do that; God doesn’t do it. Out of the thirty-three years of His life, for thirty years our Lord lived a common, humdrum, daily existence, working with His hands as a carpenter [Mark 6:3].
Now, may I apply that to our work? Not all the time, I avow and repeat, not forever are we up there on those high mountains; most of the times we’re down in the valley, doing the humdrum, ordinary, commonplace things of daily existence; most of the time we’re down there. But I do not know any excellence in any area of human achievement that is not made possible by those common, repetitive, humdrum, ordinary things of life. I don’t know an exception to it. If that boy can sing and if that girl can sing, there have been hours, and hours, and hours, and hours when they have practiced, and practiced, and practiced, and practiced. They can’t sing any other way, and do it well. These instrumentalists here, who play so beautifully for us, back of their appearance when they come before us on the Lord’s Day are hours, and hours, and hours, and hours of practice, and study, over and over and over again. Any athlete is like that or any achievement in a competitive world.
I went to see Man o’ War one time, the greatest horse that ever was born and the most famous. Man o’ War. I talked to his trainer. And in the whole life of Man o’ War, he never ran more than,he never was in a race more, all together, all of the races put together, more than thirty minutes. Put all of his races together, not more than thirty minutes; yet the hours and the hours, and the days, and the years of training and training.
A physician is like that. Think of the uncounted hours that go into the years of study and preparation that the physician might be blessed of God when he comes to see us when we’re not well or when he operates upon us when we’re in need of surgery. There is no achievement that is worthwhile that isn’t paid for in a thousand, thousand, thousand hours of humdrum, daily, ordinary endeavor, dedication.
It’s true in my own life. The days and the years and the years of preparation that lie back of what I try to do are almost countless. Now, are those days of preparation any less holy and acceptable to God than those mountaintop experiences that I have once in a while or that you have once in a while? I don’t think so; not according to God. When our Lord was a carpenter, working with His hands, He was as much the Son of God as He was when He did those marvelous works and preached those incomparable sermons, like the Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5:1-7:29]. All of it is acceptable and holy in the sight of God.
And thus it is in our work, and our worship, and our service that we dedicate to our dear Lord. There are many, many things in our church that just reach up to mountaintop experiences. There are special convocations, special revival meetings, special retreats, special programs; and we gather and we rejoice in the favor of God upon our gifted people, as they lead us in revival, or in a Singing Christmas Tree, or in a retreat, or in some marvelous convocation. That’s great! And I encourage it every way that I know how. But the actual, fundamental, foundational ministry of this church is found in these Sunday by Sunday meetings, teaching the Word of God in a Sunday school class, knocking at the door, winning people to Christ, preaching the gospel in this pulpit three times every Lord’s Day, making an appeal for the lost, praying God will give us a harvest, Sunday by Sunday by Sunday; that is the foundational effort of our church. And I’m not discounting those great revival services that we have once in a while and those marvelous convocations that bring our people together rejoicing; it’s just God is with us, and blesses us, and helps us, and is pleased with us in these common, everyday ministries, as He is in those mountaintop experiences that we know once in a while.
It is the same thing in everything that we do. See these baskets on either side? This will be the last Sunday that they are here. They are to remind us that at the end of the service we can come forward and make a special gift to our Lord; we can do it for missions, we can do it for our organ, we can do it for our schools, we can do it for our inner city ministry to the poor and the down and out. There are many, many things that we can give especially to. But the great, fundamental, foundational support of the kingdom of God in the earth lies in our giving Sunday by Sunday, our setting aside a tithe and an offering for Jesus; and Sunday by Sunday, Sunday by Sunday, coming here to the church remembering our Lord in His work and in the need of His kingdom’s effort [1 Corinthians 16:1-2].
You see, one is as acceptable in God’s sight as the other. And the Holy Spirit of God moves in one of those gifts just as much as He does in the other. It is the – it is the continuing ministries of our Lord that bless us and that keep us alive. Tell me, what if my heart beat just once in a while? Isn’t it true that my life depends upon the regularity of my heartbeat, my heartbeat, my heartbeat, my heartbeat? Isn’t that right? What if I breathed just once in a while? Isn’t it true that the strength of my life depends upon the regularity of my breathing? Even when I am asleep, my heart beats and my breath breathes and my life continues. That’s God, and that’s the work of the Lord: we have great opportunities, and we have great convocations, and we have marvelous services, and we have mountaintop experiences; but it is no less a ministry before the Lord and no less acceptable to God when I’m just doing those common things, every day, every Sunday, teaching a class of little boys or little girls, knocking at the door, studying and preparing my sermon, poring over these sacred pages, listening to the people as they tell me all the burdens of their heart, conducting funeral services – two of our sweetest people died yesterday, Christmas Day, one of them a deacon in our church – these commonplace ministries of prayer, and intercession, in sympathy and understanding, they are as acceptable to God as those great mighty experiences that we have when we’re on the mountaintop with the Lord.
It must be a wonderful thing to be given from God a gift just to continue, keeping on, just loving the Lord, serving the Lord, whether I am a star or not, whether the first magnitude or the last magnitude, whether known or unknown, doesn’t make any difference; just serving the Lord. Some of you, I know, have visited Serampore; it’s eighteen miles up that tributary of that mouth of the Ganges River from Calcutta. There William Carey labored and built a school. Well, when I was in Calcutta, I wanted to go to William Carey’s school and to visit his grave. This is the father of modern missions, William Carey. He opened the gospel to over three hundred million people by the genius of his language translations. So at Serampore, at that William Carey College, I stood in the library. They had all those artifacts, his pulpit, his chair, his books, and there on those shelves around, I could not believe the lexicons that he wrote, the dictionaries that he compiled, the translations that he made, all in those different languages of India; three hundred million people were introduced to the gospel by those marvelous translations of William Carey. Well, I just walked around the campus, looked at it, and relived the life of that great Baptist missionary, and thought of all the people he’d won to the Lord, just overwhelmed by what I was feeling and seeing. And I stood at his grave. And you know what’s written on his grave? This is it: "A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall." That’s on his grave. This marvelous man, this wonderful missionary, "A poor, miserable, helpless worm, on Thy kind arms I fall."
And now this: a biographer was writing the life of the great missionary, and talking to him, this biographer, William Carey said, and I’ve written it down, "If after my removal, any one should think it worth while 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; to this I owe everything." That to me is the mark of a great and a dedicated man: put me down, pastor, you can count on me. Not just on a mountaintop, but in the valley too; not just in the midst of a glorious experience, but in the humdrum ministries of everyday existence. I’ll be there. I’ll be praying. I’ll be holding up your hands. I’ll be working. It may be in the most ordinary sort of a ministry that God has assigned to me, but I’ll be faithful in it, as God gives me that heart to plod and to persevere. Jesus was like that. And I’d like to be that much like Him. I’d love to be that much like my Lord; out of the thirty-three years, thirty years in a common, humble ministry, working with His hands as a carpenter [Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3].
Oh, my brother, it’s a wonderful thing to love God and to be a Christian. He sanctifies our daily toil. He glorifies our humblest efforts. He makes life beautiful and wonderful and heavenly; that’s Jesus, in our hearts, in our homes and in our lives [Matthew 18:20].
And that’s our appeal to you this day. Oh, what a marvelous thing God has done, that we can have a friend like Him, that He can live in our hearts and our homes, that we can walk with Him down every pilgrim way, that He will stand by us in every crisis [Hebrews 13:5], that He will give us answers in every quandary, that He answers prayer [1 Peter 5:7], that we can take things to Him and talk to Him about them [Hebrews 4:14-16], that He will be with us in the hour of our death [Psalm 116:15], and that He will open the gates of glory when we are translated to that upper and better world [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. It’s wonderful to know the Lord Jesus.
And that’s our invitation to your heart today: accept Him as your Savior, do it. Or, having believed in the Lord, following Him in baptism as He commanded [Matthew 28:19-20]; or having been baptized, put your life with us in the ministries of this dear church, to pray with us, to worship with us, to serve God with us, do it. And a thousand times welcome. May we stand now for the prayer?
Our wonderful, wonderful Lord, what a comforting thing it is to me to know we’re not all to shine like stars of the first magnitude in order for God to love us and to bless us. The Lord blesses the humblest ministries of our hands. And our Master, when I’m about my daily task, You are there just the same as when we are a part of some great, marvelous, exhilarating, dramatic experience. And our Lord, we pray that today there will be many moved to follow the Savior down that humble way of loving God and serving Him.
And in this moment when we sing our song of appeal, a family you, in the balcony round, down one of those stairways, and there’s time and to spare, in the throng on this lower floor, into one of these aisles: "Pastor, we’ve decided for God, and we’re coming today." Do it. Make the decision in your heart. And when we sing this song of appeal, that first step you’ll make will be the most precious you’ll ever know; and may angels attend you as you come. And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy dear and saving name, amen. While we sing our song, welcome, welcome, welcome.